Camillus House is a temporary place for clients to come and find help to get their life back on track. Once that goal is achieved, what then? The next step is CamillusYOUniversity (CamYOU) for short, an expansion of Camillus House’s Workforce Development Initiative.

CamYOU is a life skills program that was introduced at Camillus House in April 2022 “to help our clients successfully find and maintain housing and employment once they’ve left here” said Alessandra Laricchia, lead for CamYOU and Community and Client Engagement Manager for Camillus House.

The program grew from a need to ensure clients have access to education on life skills and courses are tied into a “track” for success. CamYOU’s curriculum is similar to a regular college where there are pre-requisite, mandatory, and elective classes.

“We can only make certain things a requirement like case management which every client is required to comply with,” said Laricchia. “Offering the courses in a group setting helps eliminate duplication and also allows clients to ask questions in a classroom setting.”

The mandatory courses under case management include Housing Options, Housing Search, Managing a Household and Personal Budgeting. They are taught by experts in the field, for example, budgeting is taught by banking professionals.

“We also teach some courses in different languages to accommodate the Camillus House clientele in Miami,” said Laricchia.

Housing Options is being taught by Camillus House’s own CEO Hilda Fernandez. She teaches the class three times a month to clients. It allows her to tailor what their needs are through the class, breaking down what their expenses would be across each option.

Housing Search is taught by Milagros Rodriguez who says she decided to teach this class because “I am the only Housing Navigator currently working for the agency and I have 26 years of property management experience, as well as some work with different housing authorities in the county.” She has been with Camillus House for six years and was recently promoted to Housing Department Supervisor.

Ms. Rodriguez, who has been teaching the class since CamYOU began, says it “was designed to educate our clients on how to conduct their own housing search in the community. The class curriculum teaches things like knowledge on housing quality standards, the various housing programs available to them, what things to consider when searching for housing, and the different resources available to make their housing search easier, such as housing websites.”

The Managing a Household course is taught in partnership with the Miami Dade College Hospitality School. Taught by instructors from that school, here clients gain the skills for keeping a clean home, the importance of making a grocery list as well as other key life skills.

Camillus House makes it a point to cross-promote these classes with their workforce development team especially since CamYOU is an expansion of the job training program offered at Camillus.

Excitement is building as the first graduating CamYOU class is set for early 2023. Those students will have completed the mandatory classes and a certain number of electives such as Art Therapy or Home Gathering. “We’ll be awarding diplomas during a graduation ceremony and perhaps presenting them with a small gift as well. We hope to hold these graduations on a quarterly basis,” said Laricchia.

The City of Miami partially funds the CamYOU courses as does the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

Ultimately CamYOU is another way Camillus House is finding more resources for their clients, while in the process collecting feedback from them as to what services they’re interested in receiving.

Also, the instructors love what they do, especially Milagros Rodriguez who says, “I love teaching the class. The clients are very grateful at the end of each session, which gives me a feeling of fulfillment as well. I have seen several of the students locate housing soon after attending the class and call me to say thank you.”

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