B-N woman's own journey leads her to help others cruise out of poverty
Verneice Prince is founder and CEO of Cruisin’ Outta Poverty Services (COPS), based at a storefront at 458 Wylie Drive in west Normal. She provides those experiencing homelessness – or otherwise in dire need – with clothing and household items, transportation, literacy help, and even a mailbox address if it helps them get a job or birth certificate or a Social Security card. COPS also operates a thrift store at its Wylie Drive location, which is open from 1-7 p.m. Saturdays.
"Our primary goal is to help them get out of a bad situation and to gain some ground to grow in life – mentally, spiritually, financially."Verneice Prince
“We just provide an umbrella of services to help people get up and out of poverty. It can be at whatever pace they need it to be, but our primary goal is to help them get out of a bad situation and to gain some ground to grow in life – mentally, spiritually, financially,” said Prince.
Prince, a 49-year-old mother and veteran, has the life experience for this work. She spent about half her life without a home of her own, including about 20 years in foster care.
“Having a home means a lot. If you don’t have a home, you don’t have that consistency. Even if you don’t have family, you don’t even have the opportunity to build that,” Prince said.
It was easy to feel alone, she said.
“When I was going through homelessness or even foster care – to see other families around you thriving and interacting, it’s hurtful. Because you’re lonely. You’re scared. You don’t know what tomorrow looks like, if you don’t have that hope, if someone didn’t teach you what to draw on to keep you from feeling your worst during that time,” Prince said. “I needed people to be there for me. I felt like people were not.”
Master's degree in social work
After aging out of foster care, Prince joined the military and worked as a truck driver in the Army. She moved to Bloomington-Normal in 2013 and initially stayed at the Home Sweet Home Ministries shelter. Prince got her first apartment here in 2014 and are now owners of a four-bedroom home, where she occasionally fosters kids too.
Prince said part of her ability to emerge from homelessness was to take advantage of all that she was entitled – including her military benefits. She was persistent with her education too, eventually earning her master’s degree in social work from Illinois State University in Normal.
“That’s what it takes. It takes a village of people – people who really have the heart and mind of Christ to be able to reach out and help those who feel like they can’t help themselves for whatever reason,” Prince said.
There’s plenty of need. About 10.7% of McLean County residents are living in poverty, or about 17,000 people, according to Census data.
For her clients, Prince is sometimes a driver, or a mentor, or a services navigator. She’s also a volunteer counselor with INtegRIty Counseling, a nonprofit counseling agency on Bloomington’s west side.
On one day, she may be helping a family that’s new to Bloomington-Normal to pick out 10 outfits apiece from her Wylie Drive storefront. Another, she's helping someone furnish their first apartment, after spending time without a home. Or she's driving someone to Peoria’s Dream Center if the local shelters are full.
In the future, Prince hopes to see Cruisin’ Outta Poverty Services grow – into a bigger storefront, to add other staff members, and open an overnight shelter space.
“We can let people who are living below poverty know that we, as a community, care where they are. And we want to help uplift their spirits, and put them in a different place,” she said.
Cruisin’ Outta Poverty Services will host its next food fundraiser from 2-5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17, at First Christian Church, 401 W. Jefferson St., Bloomington.
You can reach Prince directly at (586) 343-3539 or firstname.lastname@example.org.