Sarasota social worker used to helping others gets rent help through Season of Sharing

·5 min read
Lori Davis, 42, of South Venice, sits in the Newtown center where she works as a family advocate social worker. Long accustomed to helping others and referring some to Season of Sharing, she and her family recently hit hard times, and it was their turn to ask for assistance.
Lori Davis, 42, of South Venice, sits in the Newtown center where she works as a family advocate social worker. Long accustomed to helping others and referring some to Season of Sharing, she and her family recently hit hard times, and it was their turn to ask for assistance.

Earlier this year, when 42-year-old Lori Davis and her husband, Nathan, thought about their lease expiring by year’s end, it felt like the right time to move on from the small house they’d been renting for 10 years north of Sarasota.

But as they started looking around for a different place to rent with their 15-year-old daughter, Carrine, there was very little they could afford on their two incomes – Lori’s as a social worker and her husband’s from his job with PGT Custom Windows & Doors.

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“Rent is just outrageous,” she said about their search in a red-hot real estate market marked by record rents and rising home prices. What they were finding were two-bedroom units going for $1,500 a month.

“It’s more than what a mortgage would be,” she said. Aside from the rent itself, places were asking for first and last month’s rent to move in, plus a security deposit on top of that.

“That’s a down payment on a house,” the couple told each other.

And that’s when it hit them – they might as well buy something of their own. They decided to do just that, launching a search this spring for a three-bedroom house large enough for them and their daughter plus an extra bedroom for her parents when they came to Florida to visit from Ohio.

With her parents offering to help with a down payment, everything was falling into place.

Given the soaring resale cost for houses, they expanded their quest – pushing farther south toward South Venice, where prices for houses were lower. It would mean a shorter commute for Nathan but would be close to 40 minutes one way for Lori to her job in Newtown.

But then, amid pandemic-related problems, supply chain issues and material shortages, Nathan’s hours were cut at work. Their 20-year-old son, Nathan Jr., also lost work during the pandemic, and they were helping him, too.

Instead of saving for their new home, the two were falling further and further behind and were soon unable to pay their rent.

For years working as a family advocate in her social work job, Lori had helped countless struggling parents and single mothers when they were in a bind – turning them on to the assistance provided by Season of Sharing.

Now it was her family in need of help.

“As a caseworker and a parent and a community member, Season of Sharing is one of the best,” she said of the resource.

While the application is thorough, unlike other programs for rent assistance that can take months, the Season of Sharing process is quick, she’d known from her experience helping other families.

“It takes the worry from parents who are afraid that the lights are going to be turned off,” Davis said.

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So Davis turned to Jewish Family & Children’s Service of the Suncoast Inc., or JFCS, for help with the Season of Sharing application.

This spring, they were approved for $1,500 to help them get caught up on back rent, said Susan Schoengold, coordinator of Jewish Financial Assistance and Jewish Care Management at JFCS, which delivers mental health and human services on a non-denominational basis.

“She’s lived through it on both sides of the story,” Schoengold said of Davis.

“You can save for your typical rainy day, but no one planned for Covid, and look at what happened with housing,” Schoengold said, adding that she is helping many clients in desperate need of assistance amid the worsening crisis in affordable housing.

“I think that even people who don’t realize they’re vulnerable probably are,” Schoengold said. “I do feel like most of us are one catastrophe away from homelessness.”

After the assistance, Davis said they stayed current on their rent and continued their housing search – finally finding a three-bedroom house in South Venice.

They closed on the house in late August and moved in soon after.

The household budget remains tight as her husband’s hours at work are still fluctuating.

Meanwhile, Davis, who doesn’t mind the driving part of the commute but is hit hard by high gas prices, put in for a relocation to work at a site closer to South Venice. She is also taking online courses for a master’s degree in clinical social work.

The assistance is out there for anyone who needs it and qualifies, including families like hers with two incomes, she said of Season of Sharing, which raises donations from the community during the holiday season in a fundraising campaign. The money is then used yearlong to help families and individuals with housing, utilities, child care, transportation and other expenses – with checks or payments sent straight to landlords, utility companies or other vendors.

“If you need help, get help,” she has long told the families that she assists – advice she then had to follow. “People just need to know it’s there to help anybody, not just low-income families. It’s there to help anyone in the community when you’re struggling. Then when you’re not struggling, you can give back during their campaign.”

How to help

Season of Sharing was created 21 years ago as a partnership between the Herald-Tribune and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County to get emergency funds to individuals and families on the brink of homelessness in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties. There are no administrative fees and no red tape – every dollar donated goes to families in need to help with rental assistance, utility bills, child care and other expenses.

Donations to Season of Sharing may be made online at cfsarasota.org/donors/support-season-of-sharing, or by sending a check (payable to the Community Foundation of Sarasota County) to Attn. Season of Sharing, 2635 Fruitville Road, Sarasota, FL 34237. Contact the foundation at 941-955-3000 for more information or to request a credit card form. All donations are tax-deductible.

This story comes from a partnership between the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Saundra Amrhein covers the Season of Sharing campaign, along with issues surrounding housing, utilities, child care and transportation in the area. She can be reached at samrhein@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Season of Sharing helps Sarasota social worker used to helping others

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