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Saranam Family Stability Advocate Stephanie Johnston (left) teaches a class on healthy cooking for participants in the After Exit program.

Supporting Families Emerging from Homelessness

For families emerging from homelessness, exiting Saranam’s two-year housing program can be both an exciting and daunting experience.

“This was my safe place for so long. When we started to move out, my kids were scared,” said Theresa Archibeque, a parent who graduated from the housing program at Saranam, an Albuquerque nonprofit that serves families experiencing homelessness.

Fortunately, with the help of a grant through Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico’s (BCBSNM) Healthy Kids, Healthy Families® initiative, Saranam had established its After Exit program in 2019 to provide additional support for families leaving Saranam and entering independent living situations.

BCBSNM has supported the program since 2019, providing yearly grants of $15,000 into 2022 for a total of $60,000, to help families remain in safe and stable housing and build financial security — key social determinants of health.

“The grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico has really made this program possible,” said Tracy Weaver, executive director of Saranam.

For Archibeque and so many other families, the After Exit program provided a crucial source of stability.

“No matter what comes my way, I know that my foundation is rock solid,” Archibeque said. “I have different people to go to for different things, and I think that’s been so helpful for me. It keeps me strong so that I can turn back to my kids and then they see me strong instead of me getting worn down.”

Saranam’s After Exit program includes ongoing education, case management, and a way for families to stay in touch with each other and with the organization.

“We are continuing to provide support, resources, asset-building and community-building opportunities to those families who have exited our program so that they can continue to work toward more and more stability over time,” Weaver said. “That really tells our longitudinal story and the success that our families are making.”

Through After Exit, families have the opportunity to participate in life-skills classes, healthy cooking demonstrations, family-friendly activities, financial management training and more.

Stephanie Johnston, a licensed nutritionist with a background in maternal and infant health and experience in low-income food programs, serves as Saranam’s family stability advocate. She helps families successfully exit the housing program and provides ongoing support to alumni.

“The big focus on our program has been health and wellness,” Johnston said.

Johnston has taught families in the After Exit program about cooking healthy and inexpensive meals, packing nutritious school lunches for children, and the importance of eating meals as a family and staying active, among many other topics.

Another valuable component of the program includes financial education and savings. Saranam teamed up with Prosperity Works, an Albuquerque nonprofit that provides asset-building programs for New Mexicans with limited incomes, so families can join a matching savings program for pursuing education, purchasing a home, buying a vehicle, or starting a small business. Program participants include individuals were children in Saranam’s housing program and who are now saving for college.

“Our families are understanding the value of furthering their education,” Weaver said. “We see our alumni are buying homes, they’re staying in touch with each other, they’re getting promotions in different jobs, they’re continuing their education, they’re getting their degrees, and those are really things for us to celebrate.”

The program also allows Saranam to collect important data on how parents and their children progress over time, enabling the organization to better understand the effectiveness of its programming and how to best set up families for success.

For Archibeque and her family, the additional support from Saranam has been life changing. “It’s impacted me tremendously,” she said. “Without it, I don’t think that I would be able to be who I am today, honestly.”

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