Melina Gilbert has made helping others a priority in Lake County

Much of the work done at Lake County Community Network involves helping individuals and families who are struggling to come up the money they need to make utility bill or rent payments. In the next few years, Executive Director Melina Gilbert hopes the nonprofit will be able to do more to help these people regain their financial independence.

“When we’re looking at budgets and doing intakes, we’re looking at everything,” Gilbert says.

“We’re not just asking how much you are paying for rent and car payments. We’re asking if you have any furniture or appliance rentals. We have a great furniture bank in Lake County. Can we look at going there and returning that couch that you’re paying $200 a month for? Do you have credit cards that you’re making payments on? How about student loans? That’s where we can dig in and make some good recommendations as far as how to bring their budgets back in check.”

LCCN began as Lake County Church Network, which was incorporated in 1999. It changed to Lake County Community Network in part to demonstrate that it was a community organization, not just a group of churches.

“The other reason that came to be was as the years have gone by, getting grants has become more of an online thing,” Gilbert says. “The word ‘church’ will boot you out of any foundation very quickly. You can’t get past that first step to even submit an application for grant funding. Foundations don’t fund churches.”

Gilbert is working hard to continue expanding LCCN’s reach. Doing so provides more resources, and through communication and coordination, it also minimizes the duplication of effort. In addition, it makes it harder for those who are trying to take advantage of the generosity of others from succeeding.

“We keep a very thorough database of who we have helped,” Gilbert says. “We communicate with the churches so we don’t have people going from church to church to church not paying any of their own monthly expenses, but instead, having the community at large pay them.”

Finally, having a group of accessible pastors is great for those moments when you have doubts, Gilbert says.

“I have pastors from 62 churches at my disposal,” she says. “So when I feel my faith and my resilience faltering, I can turn to one of them and talk it through.”

Mark Scott is Senior Associate Editor at Smart Business Cleveland