Tissell Helps Find Homes for Families in Need

Elisabeth Tissell (G14)

Tissell, shown here in Ronda, Spain, where she studied abroad for a semester while a student, uses her knowledge of the Spanish language regularly in her current position with AmeriCorps.

Elisabeth Tissell (G14) wants to be a university professor, but the recent political science graduate is taking a not-so-ordinary path to get there.

Instead of pursuing education in graduate school, she’s now in Alamosa, Colo., gaining real-world experience as a volunteer with AmeriCorps while on a two-year assignment helping low-income families secure housing.

“I’m being taught so much about communication skills and working with people,” she says. Those communication skills are enhanced by her knowledge of Spanish, her minor at George Fox. She is a case manager for five families, most of whom speak Spanish.

Tissell is serving her assignment with the Adelante Family Self-Sufficiency Program, the first rural transitional housing program in Colorado. She is responsible for serving families that need transitional housing, conducting weekly home visits and coordinating with local social service agencies. In a typical day she can be found both in an office and in client homes, problem-solving everything from child care to government benefits, providing transportation, advocating for clients in court or helping them with purchases. “I partner alongside them,” she says.

Her clients are typically homeless because of domestic violence, overcrowding or poor living conditions. Her organization provides housing for 13 to 15 families in addition to locating other homes. Clients can stay in the provided housing for up to two years, with a six-month extension, although most of the individuals and families Tissell assists don’t stay that long. Those who have an income through work or other assistance pay 30 percent of their net earnings on housing.

“What I like most is learning my clients’ stories and seeing them grow, putting the pieces together, recognizing their strengths and seeing them empowered,” she says. “It brings me joy.”

Her biggest surprise? “The variety of issues I’ve not thought of,” she says. “I’ve received a lot of training here.”

The assistance Tissell provides to clients is an effort involving a stair-step of organizations. She was recruited by AmeriCorps but works specifically with La Puente Home, Inc., a nonprofit providing food, shelter and advocacy for the homeless in the San Luis Valley in Colorado, and its Adelante program, which provides transitional housing services.

Tissell, who grew up in the Seattle area, says she had an early interest in studying the Spanish language. “I always wanted to be bilingual, to be a well-rounded person,” she says, adding that the semester she spent studying abroad in Spain while a student at George Fox inspired her interest in working with people.

As for her future as a professor, she’s still deciding what graduate school she will attend and even her ultimate field of study, which could include politics, international affairs, conflict resolution or diplomacy.