Staff Spotlight - Millie Colon
Accountable Care Organizations Manager
“I’m new!” Millie Colon says, of joining the Way Finders Housing Consumer Education Center in November 2020—amid a global pandemic. She is currently the Housing Services Manager and Manager of the Accountable Care Organizations (ACO) program.
Within the ACO program, Millie manages a staff of three housing navigators who assess the urgency of every referral, including help with applying through Residential Assistance for Families in Transition and federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) funding.
Millie has held a variety of other roles in her tenure: homelessness prevention counselor, court specialist, Massachusetts Landlord Association trainer, and, up until the end of May, manager of a 12-person team of applicant chasers. Dubbed the “Cognito Chasers Team,” this group has responded to 50+ applications a day for the past few months, a volume directly linked to the housing hardships posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent daily tallies have hovered closer to 100.
Applicant chasers are the first to look at an application, usually submitted by someone in the community who is in desperate need. Millie motivated her team to stay curious, read between the lines and get a sense for the urgency: What is the case? What is the emergency? Is it domestic violence? Is it a shutoff notice? Is it an eviction case?
Being on the frontlines in assisting those in need is challenging, and at times overwhelming. And there are never enough hours in the day. But the work is meaningful. And it’s rewarding to see the beginning and end of someone’s crisis.
“We’re changing people’s lives, for a fact,” Millie says. “We’re stopping evictions daily. Someone’s utilities being shut off at 3:00 today? We chase the case, we assign the case, we review the case, we approve the case. In one day. We do it every day. We have a great team, it’s not one person. I’m impressed every single day by their commitment.”
This June, Millie began to lead a new group that will help recertify recipients of ERAP funding, as an additional stipend is now available. “I’m super excited about that: How can people access three more months? We're in the face of learning what this is going to look like.”
Millie, who has worked in social services for 15+ years, was most recently the manager of the HIV/AIDS Project at River Valley Counseling Center in Holyoke. “We had a drop-in center and I found that it was, more than anything, my passion.”
Millie grew up doing payroll and taxes for her family’s business in Puerto Rico, and earned a degree in business. After moving to the states, she realized that she had a lot of skills—translating, advocacy—that could help people. “And so I slowly switched gears, to where I feel that my skills are being put to good work.”
One of her most evident traits? The boundless energy and enthusiasm with which she takes on each day, each meeting, each client, each urgent assessment. When Millie started in the fall, she inherited a backlog of voicemails—over 100—and was tempted to forward them on. “But I’m like, OK, let me take care of it.” She listened to each one.
One voicemail was from a chronically homeless individual, begging at the top of his lungs for somebody to listen to him. “I will never forget it, you can hear the desperation,” Millie says.
Today he is buying new items for his apartment. With Millie’s help and attention, his case was expedited, and he found a housing alternative to living in a tent.
Outside of work, you may catch Millie as she volunteers at Glendale Ridge Vineyard in Southampton. “Oh my God, my friends, it’s an amazing spot. You can see Mount Tom from there. They’re really getting integrated with the community. Check it out.”
You’ll have less luck catching her on her camping trips, of which she partakes five or six times a year. She prefers remote spots in Vermont and is excited to teach her 5-year-old grandson the ropes, just as she did her two, now grown, sons. “We find an open area by the river, we pitch our tent, hike into the woods to find dry wood. There’s a lot of teaching.”
Gaming runs in Millie’s family, too: “I can still beat my boys on super Nintendo!”
If Millie could have any superpower? “Fly! I would fly to PR, go to the beach. And then I can just fly back.” Back to her passion, her work at Way Finders, her place where she is most alive: making a difference for others. Every day.
“My dad told me to always, always work hard,” Millie says. “Wake up every morning and give of yourself. Give before you ask. Give back before you expect something in return.”
Thank you for all that you do for Way Finders, Millie!