People of Housing Security: Katie Hopkins

Thriving Connections Manager strives to support people in their journey.

Katie Hopkins is grateful for the opportunity to walk alongside people through their journey towards stability. She has devoted the last 9 years to being a part of an intentional community where families who are experiencing poverty build social equity and find their voices, using her own life’s journey as a guide. 

Katie has called Bloomington home for the past 16 years. While attending college, , she worked at the Indiana Department of Education with the Migrant Education Program for 5 years. She then became a certified Spanish teacher.  

Being a teacher came with its challenges. She found it difficult to maintain her role as a teacher while trying to maintain stability for her growing family. Part of the challenge was navigating community resources. Raising three small kids at the time, she found it difficult to access support like food stamps and Medicaid benefits. She recalled feeling panicked by the limited income and benefits she received as a teacher. “I remember the anxiety of trying to balance wanting to work, with needing to consider that if I couldn’t afford the health insurance premiums and I lost access to my doctors and prescriptions, I wouldn’t be able to work for very long anyways. I felt like I could never get the math right.” 

However, things began to look up when Katie first heard about Thriving Connections (TC). She was referred to TC  by her children’s Head Start early learning center. TC is an initiative that works to connect families who are living without enough resources with a community of support that helps them form their own systems of mutual aid and social capital. 

Participants of Thriving Connections are referred to as Captains. Katie was a Captain in TC from 2009-2014. Once in TC, Captains go through a 20-week training. The training covers topics like generational, situational, systemic, and institutional poverty. It also addresses sustainable employment, personal growth, and education. Captains then set goals for themselves in areas of employment, physical health, financial resources, shelter, childcare, food, integrity, cultural resources, emotional resources, social support, and transportation. As part of the program, Captains self-assess their goals every 6 months. 

What’s unique about Thriving Connections is their use of community allies. The program connects Captains with volunteers to support the goals they’ve set. These allies are community members who are willing to build intentional friendships (not mentorships) with Captains. Allies are given a unique opportunity to understand the complexities of poverty in an intimate way. Captains and Allies can support each other in different ways, like having encouraging conversations, discussing goal setting, attending social events together, inviting each other into their daily lives, exposing each other to experiences that may be new, and helping each other through the uncomfortableness of those new experiences. 

After being a Captain, Katie was an AmeriCorp volunteer for a year and a half. She then was a navigator for the Covering Kids and Family program.  She left SCCAP for a few years to be a Community Relations Consultant for Anthem Medicaid.  After getting to see nonprofits all over southern Indiana, she found a new appreciation for just how special Thriving Connections was and when a position opened up, she transitioned to being the Thriving Connections Community Support Specialist. Katie now serves as Thriving Connections Manager. She has been in this position since June of 2023. 

“We have a place where poverty isn’t a stigma.”

Katie Hopkins

She loves that TC is community driven. She appreciates that participants have real power to create change and build equity. She believes that people are the experts of their own lives and what they need. “All I have to do is create the space for people to feel able to be themselves and to practice bringing their gifts and voices together for change and purpose. The participants and volunteers do the hard work of showing up and painstakingly planning our programming, events, and special projects.”   

Katie is proud that TC participants have a special type of solidarity with one another. “We have a place where poverty isn’t a stigma.” It’s proven that having a strong social support system improves self-esteem, civic, and community engagement, Katie noted.  “We are an intentional community.”

Katie finds joy in being able to see people experience life-changing milestones. “I get to see people celebrate birthdays, see kids grow up. With regards to housing, we’ve been there to move people out of apartments, into new places, build Habitat homes, participate in eviction prevention, lose homes to fire, and become homeowners. We get to be a part of it all, the ups and the downs. The downs are easier to get through with a community of support around you.” 

She added that because TC doesn’t have a strict time limit on people’s participation, “I can see people through on their journey. If I worked anywhere else, I’d be providing a certain kind of intervention or service and wouldn’t get to see people build these deep and powerful relationships where they advocate for each other and go out and join boards and commissions. Even people who have left TC maintain some of those relationships for years.” 

Katie mentioned that there are various efforts to create programs and events to address the onset of challenges caused by poverty. But often, these efforts don’t include the voices or expertise of people with lived experience of poverty. Katie wishes people would “use [their] voice to create systems with us and not just for us.” She continues, “It takes time, patience, intention, and resources to build the kinds of relationships that foster meaningful inclusion and belonging. I see it happening in other agencies too, where they’re realizing that authentic relationships and connections are a defining factor in whether or not everyone is able to get their needs met.”

On difficult days, Katie reminds herself and other members of TC about previous challenges they’ve overcome. She believes “as long as we continue to show up we’ll continue to get through difficult times.”

TC offices are housed within a house! Inside you can see a gallery of pictures of families who have been impacted by participating in Thriving Connections. Looking at those pictures, Katie said, always helps her reflect on happy memories and encourages her that they’ll continue to make more memories.

In her free time, Katie enjoys spending time with her family. She also likes reading, writing, and playing the piano.  She is currently reading Poverty, By America by Matthew Desmond for the first time and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg for the third time. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Thriving Connections, which is affiliated with South Central Community Action Program, check out their open house from 6-7:30 p.m. on August 31, 2023. The open house will be taking place at St Mark’s United Methodist Church 100 Indiana 46 Bloomington, IN 47408.

About the People of Housing Security: This series highlights the work of those committed to improving the lives of residents in South Central Indiana. Find all the articles in this series here.