PUBLISHED: 4:49 PM on Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Documenting a success story

Photo by Rosie Milligan
  Morgan Howard, a freelance video and multimedia production film maker, focuses on Keri Combs for a documentary about the Tlingit and Haida program Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.
Success stories prove living assistant programs are having a positive effect and are making dreams come true for many southeast residences in need.

The Tlingit and Haida program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, is recording some of their success stories by producing a documentary on the people they have helped in need.

TANF is a living assistance program and one of the many services Tlingit and Haida provides. It was created by the Welfare Reform Law of 1996, replacing the commonly know Welfare programs and is federally funded in every state.

TANF assists families in need by temporarily supporting them financially, helping them find work, and get stable again with counseling and support.

"I was on the verge of losing my home," said Keri Combs, a 36 year old TANF client

"TANF came in and helped me save my home until I got on my feet again. The entire process took less than a year with their support," said Combs.

Combs was raised in Juneau and recently returned after spending 16 years in Seattle. She is the mother of three sons and one of the success stories being filmed in the TANF documentary.

Combs was working construction when she got laid-off and developed carpel tunnels disease, unable to continue supporting her family.

Tlingit and Haida was there to help and enrolled Combs in their Vocational Rehabilitation program, a section of TANF and which is there to aid people when they get injuries at work and help find new occupations.

TANF supplied medical assistance and counseling for the situation. They also had Combs take equivalency tests to determine what she would be best at. The tests reported Combs was best suited to either construction or accounting.

Construction was no longer an option and Combs had prior accounting experience, making the decision easy.

SEARCH counseled Combs in completing a resume, job searching and applying to openings as an accountant.

Combs is now a single parent, supporting her children while working at the State of Alaska as an accountant and at JRC. TANF helped Combs achieve her job at the state by helping her find a substantial occupation she was qualified for.

Combs credits much of her success to her counselor, Ramona Wigs, who consistently supported and educated her throughout the entire stressful time.

"Ramona told me about a lot of services I did not know about," Combs said. "She helped me find what I was good at and that helped me support my family."

Ramona Wigs, a tribal vocational rehabilitation program counselor, said she assists about 60 clients a year and there are other counselors doing the same. She is there primarily to help find new work when someone develops injuries or disabilities at a job.

Wigs said working with Combs was an interesting situation because she had so much to overcome.

"She (Combs) had a lot of obstacles to beat and a lot of doors slam in her face, but once she saw the light at the end of the tunnel she really went to work full force and worked extremely hard to get where she is now," Wigs said.

Although TANF is there to help families in need, they are not expected to do all the work and require clients to adhere to their policies and work hard to help themselves. Wigs said it's a group effort and takes all parties involved.

Morgan Howard, a freelance video and multimedia production film maker, is filming success stories and the product of what these programs do for TANF's documentary.

Howard filmed Combs working in her office, at JRC and at home with her kids. Howard filmed over a dozen clients from all over southeast for the film and said Combs was great to work with.