In our most recent episode of “& so much more,” we speak with Shawne Farmer, the Executive Director at Interfaith Outreach Association (IOA). As an organization that serves populations in the city of Lynchburg as well as Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford and Campbell counties, IOA continues to make an impact on the well-being of our community. Together, Cami and Shawne explore the services that the IOA actively provides to our community through simple home repairs, emergency assistance to those facing utility cutoffs or evictions, life skills and job readiness classes for formerly detained individuals and more. To learn more about the work that the IOA is doing across central VA, listen to or watch, “& so much more,” on your favorite podcast platform today!
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Hi, welcome to & so much more. I am here with Shawne Farmer of Interfaith Outreach. She's the executive director and Interfaith Outreach is one of our community partners. And so this year particular, we have been taking the time to talk about how Centra is interacting with community partners, organizations, nonprofits, all around all of the communities where we serve. And it has been incredible. I feel so much more knowledgeable about our communities. And then every time I hear about another organization, I'm like ready to go. I'm like, I want to come and join you. So I'm so excited to hear about Interfaith Outreach. But first, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Shawne Farmer: So I'm Shawne Farmer. I'm executive director of Interfaith Outreach, and I've lived here in Lynchburg almost 30 years and... Yeah, and I've been the director of Interfaith for 12 years.
Cami: So Lynchburg has been home for quite a while. What's your favorite thing to do at Lynchburg?
Shawne Farmer: Go to the restaurants probably.
Cami: Yes, we've got some good ones.
Shawne Farmer: We do have fabulous restaurants. For sure.
Cami: It's become this really fun place to go walk around downtown and experience some of the local flair. Lynchburg is coming into its own and I love seeing that happen kind of in each of our communities that we have around us. So you've been with Interfaith Outreach for 12 years. What brought you to Interfaith?
Shawne Farmer: Well, I had spent some time in nonprofits before at Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest and Interfaith Outreach. And then I had also taught in the school system as well. And I just, after working with a lot of children and in nonprofit, I thought it would be great to work for a nonprofit that could help families, support families that could empower children to be all they can be.
Cami: Oh, I love that. So for those who have never heard of Interfaith, tell us what is at the heart and the mission of what you guys do?
Shawne Farmer: We have six programs that pull the resources together from the community to keep families together safe at home.
Cami: So what do those programs look like?
Shawne Farmer: We have an emergency assistance program where we offer assistance with rent and utilities. We have a progressive release program where we go into the jails and teach life skills classes to men and women. We also offer aftercare when they get out so they can be successful. We have a free furniture program for families that are displaced or who have been homeless. We have a vision program where we provide rides to medical appointments for people who are blind. We have a rebuilds program where we do simple home repairs for elderly and disabled people. And then last but not least, our newest program is the Homeless Prevention Program that we run for Central Virginia to help people avoid homelessness when they're right on the edge of becoming homeless.
Cami: So these are very practical needs that you all are stepping into the balance to help the community stay out of... You're like a guardrail to stay out of the other side and then also to reintroduce. So which of these programs has been most impactful for you?
Shawne Farmer: I think one of the most, it all depends on what sort of metric you're using probably. One of the most moving program for me always is going into the jails and working with people and life skills because these are people who are just so hungry for a new way of doing things. And when you know better, you do better. And so we offer them all sorts of guidance about different stages of decision making and different topics that empower them to be successful when they get out, whether it's values or finding jobs or anger management or money management or family matters, all of that. And we've had a lot of success with that. It's extremely rewarding.
Cami: I believe it. So have you remained in contact with any of these individuals who have gone through some of these programs? Do you step in and provide a need and step back, or is this more of a relational type of involvement?
Shawne Farmer: Well, as executive director for Progressive Release, our program director, Steve Manetti, stays in touch with people. We have a correspondence program as well, so that the whole time they are incarcerated, whether they're in jail or in prison, we're able to stay in touch with them. And remember a day when someone knocked on the door and they introduced themself and I just was, oh my gosh, we've been getting letters from you for 10 years now. It's so good to finally meet you and he's doing fabulous.
Cami: You got to put a face with a name, with a story. That's really special. So do you have any stories from these programs in maybe specific instances of how you've seen lives changed?
Shawne Farmer: Well, I tell you probably one of the biggest things we've ever done is offer emergency assistance during the COVID Pandemic for people facing evictions and utility terminations, because that was like nothing I could have ever in my life imagined. The need was just critical for our community where so many people live in poverty and live paycheck to paycheck and then boom, with the shutdown, they had zero resources. Zero for months. And so to hear everyone's stories during that time period was extremely impactful because just people who had been sick, people who had lost a loved one, people who were unable to work even though they wanted to because of the shutdown. People that had to stay at home with their children during the shutdown, keep everybody safe. That was probably the most powerful experience I've had at Interfaith. And we were able to, over a two-year period, serve over 2000 families, keeping families together and safe at home with running water and electricity and roof over their head. So that was amazing.
Cami: That's incredible. I think of that time where we all by necessity had to retreat into our homes and you know that there were needs out there. How did you identify them? How does someone step into a place where they can receive this type of aid from you?
Shawne Farmer: 211 through United Way is one of the largest resources in our community for people in need to determine where they can go for assistance. And so we do get quite a few referrals from 211. We also though have referrals from the faith community as we were founded, as a way for the faith community to better pool their resources together to serve people in need so that everyone wasn't working in silos. And that just really was a gift during the pandemic that they had that vision for the vulnerable. So I'd say with that, that's the two biggest ways that people find out about us. Plus we've been around since 1966, and so people know word of mouth is another big thing.
Cami: How would a community member or a caregiver here at Centra, if they wanted to volunteer, how would they go about doing that?
Shawne Farmer: The best thing for them to do is to give us a call and then we speak with them about what their interests are and what their gifts might be and determine what would be the best fit for them. Because we have several different opportunities depending on their skillset set, depending on if it's an individual or if it's a group, and their availability too, whether it's during the week or on the weekend.
Cami: So you don't have to have a completely clear schedule is what I'm hearing. If you have some time available and this is hitting home, it's just kind of pricking your heart, you can reach out and be a part of this. So is it just the programs you mentioned previously where people can volunteer or are there specific volunteer opportunities that you can share with us?
Shawne Farmer: Well, we don't have volunteers and emergency assistance because that's a lot of personal information in there. People are able to volunteer by assisting in the jails with the life skills classes if they wanted or if they wanted to assist with the mailings. For the furniture program, we always have opportunities for people to go in and straighten and sort and arrange as well as maybe to pick up various items for us. And we have lots of groups that go in on the weekend, especially to volunteer to do that. For our rebuilds program that does the simple home repairs for elderly and disabled people, that's probably our biggest volunteer opportunity because we have groups of all ages all times that will do all sorts of things for our elderly and disabled neighbors.
Cami: So there really is not a community, a demographic that Interfaith Outreach does not touch?
Shawne Farmer: I think so. I think that there, there're people in need in our community in all of Central Virginia, not just Lynchburg, but being founded by the faith community that was so important to them to be able to take care of the most vulnerable, the people in need. To best serve them they felt that they needed to create an organization that could just specialize in that, so people got the care that they needed. And with that, that's how we were formed.
Cami: And I love how that aligns with just the heart here at Centra. You know what I mean? When you come through those doors, you're just a person in need. It has nothing to do with anything else. And I think that people need to understand that. There is this welcome of come and let us take care of you. And so that's why I think you guys are such a great fit as a community partner, and I love hearing about it. Now, if you all want to learn more, you guys are on Instagram, you're on Facebook, you also are on, so it's www.Interfaithoutreach.org, correct?
Shawne Farmer: Yes.
Cami: So you can go to their website where you can just look and hear about these programs and then of course, reach out, get involved. I think it's so cool to be able to hand back and volunteer within your community. And so from what you're saying, it's not just Lynchburg. So you can volunteer here and kind of push out into the entire Central Virginia area, correct?
Shawne Farmer: Yes. Especially with the rebuilds program because that is working, doing work in people's homes or installing ramps. And there's a real need for volunteers in the counties to do work, the far edge of Bedford or Campbell County, especially with the installation of Ramps, because with the bulk of that, of the volunteer group being from Lynchburg, that's a big drive back and forth every day. So if there are people in the community, in the counties, we'd love to have church groups or civic groups volunteer.
Cami: All right, Sean, thank you so much for joining us today, and thank you so much. For those of you who are listening, we are going to dig in a little bit deeper on our newsletter. We're actually interviewing one of your board members, Carter Brooks, who works here at Centra, and she's going to share her story and how she gets to be a part of Interfaith Outreach. So I encourage you to go check that out. And thank you for listening today on & so much more.