The guest blog below was written by Karen Keith, a Program Specialist with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs in Austin, Texas.
#CommunityActionWorks is one of two hashtags this year during Community Action Month, the other is #WeR1000Strong. This is to represent the over 1,000 Community Action Agencies across the USA; that’s an impressive number! They are doing great work each day. In Texas, our state network of 40 agencies serves all 254 counties. #WeR40Strong.
During the first quarter of 2018, training on the new CSBG Annual Report was provided across Texas. It became apparent we needed to help the agencies to understand how the modules under the new reporting are designed to tell the story of how #CommunityActionWorks. A section in the new report (Module 2) now allows the agency to tell the story of their capacity to impact communities, how they are leveraging dollars. Another section (Module 3) tells the story of community level work –active participation in initiatives and collaborations with entire communities. Module 4 tells the story of the clients – the impact of CSBG on a participant or family that moves them towards self-sufficiency.
People across Texas are impacted by our #WeR40Strong and here are a few of Texas successes in this #WarOnPoverty.
Hidalgo County Community Action Agency, Case Manager Rene Solis shares the story of Pete –
Over 20 years ago, Pete, served 3 years in prison. Upon release he wanted to cut hair, but finding the resources to attend school seemed impossible. Pete met barrier after barrier. In 2016, Rene Solis went to a barber school in McAllen to conduct a case management presentation to the students and he found Pete trying to make ends meet. Pete wanted the assistance being offered in case management so he came to Hidalgo County CSA’s office in Edinburg where he became a client. Encouragement from Rene and support from CSBG for necessities like gas cards to ensure transportation kept Pete going. Pete graduated and obtained his license to be a barber. #CommunityActionWorks
Today, Pete’s clients are DEA agents, State Troopers, local Police and county Sheriffs because Pete’s great reputation precedes anything else he has done. Pete says:
“I own my own barbershop now, and for the first time I see how proud my mom is of me. I love what I do but I want more. I want to go back to school and become an instructor so I can have something to fall back on. This program (CSBG) saved my life and Mr. Solis is not Mr. Solis any more, he is my friend.”
Rolling Plains Management Corporation, Lead Case Manager Wendy McChesney writes about her client Kristina –
Facing a separation, eviction, and disconnected utilities, Kristina was facing challenges that seemed insurmountable. A full-time RN student, her marriage was failing due to growing financial pressures. It seemed the harder she worked to shelter her young children from the growing stressful environment, the worse it became. Having completed half of the RN program, she feared she would have to quit school and work full-time – knowing that doing so would set her family back even more. Her school counselor told her to contact 2-1-1 to see about getting assistance before she made the decision to put her education on hold. 2-1-1 referred her to Rolling Plains Management Corporation for utility assistance where the staff invited her to participate in CSBG Case Management Services.
After 4 months, Kristina and her husband were back together and he was able to complete his machinist certification. Meanwhile, Kristina continued going to school full-time while her husband worked full-time as a machinist. After a year of receiving case management services, Kristina graduated from the RN program with a job awaiting her at a local hospital. Since completing the CSBG Case Management program, Kristina has maintained employment as an RN and her husband now owns a business. She and her husband have been able to purchase their own home and support their children’s interests and family well-being. #CommunityActionWorks
Central Texas Opportunities, Case Manager and former CSBG recipient – Shenika Arredondo’s story –
Shenika’s first connection with Central Texas Opportunities (CTO) was as a volunteer facilitating a faith-based recovery group called Overcomers. She then became a CSBG client of CTO while she was a full-time student at Texas State Technical College (TSTC). Her case manager helped her set goals and monthly meetings helped her to stay focused and reach those goals.
In 2012, Shenika graduated from TSTC and became a full-time employee at CTO. This was life changing as she had never held a job for long. She loves what she does; she gets to help people. Sharing her story of past struggles and the journey to success with clients, she shows them that if she can do it, so can they.
Shenika has been able to help families who are in crisis and some who just need a little help to see their potential and set goals for their lives. By helping them learn new skills, she helps them break down the barriers that would otherwise keep them from succeeding and gets to see the end result of changed lives and family successes.
Shenika states: “CSBG is important because it gives back to the community, to individuals, and to families to help them achieve goals and become self-sufficient.” #CommunityActionWorks
City of Fort Worth, Marie Francis shares the story of Mr. and Ms. W –
Mr. and Ms. W came to Fort Worth CAP from a client referral. They lived in a motel and both were trying to find full-time employment. They had several evictions that made finding housing difficult and they had two large dogs that made their search for stable housing even more difficult.
After meeting with the caseworker they started identifying the types of jobs they thought they could get and maintain, as lack of employment was the biggest issue identified. The caseworker found several places in the mall where the client could work, they reviewed resumes and then the caseworker sent both to our Soft Skills class. Ms. W found a part-time job with benefits at a department store. Mr. W received a fork-lift certification ($150 for a one-day class) and started working right away.
They looked at their strengths and weaknesses, what barriers were holding them back and identified several goals; finding employment with benefits, affordable housing, and budgeting/credit classes.
The caseworker has helped them with their rent as the W’s are working on a budget and identifying areas where money could be better spent.
Mr. and M.s W are currently both working two jobs each and they are now at living wage. They have a lot of challenges ahead of them, but they said they finally “see the light at the end of the tunnel”, whereas they had only felt despair before coming to Fort Worth CAP.
Their transition out of poverty is still ongoing, but their quality of life and their outlook has dramatically improved. #CommunityActionWorks
Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs (TDHCA), Karen Keith –
As I crisscross our big state, meeting the #WeAre40Strong staff, I’m reminded of why we do this work when I meet the clients our subrecipient’s serve. It isn’t an easy job, there are many “no’s” being said and not everyone who asks receives. However, there is great joy when someone rises up; gets their diploma, a license to cut hair, a full-time job when they’d never held one for long. These are the victories, these are the reasons that #CommunityActionWorks.
I am humbled and grateful for the work each intake worker, case manager, and front line staffer does – they impact someone’s life daily. They impacted mine when I was a CSBG recipient 27 months ago. I am honored to work with #WeAre40Strong CAAs here in Texas, people giving people a hand-up when it’s most needed.
“For so long as man has lived on this earth, poverty has been his curse. On every continent in every age men have sought escape from poverty’s oppression. Today, for the first time in all the history of the human race, a great nation is able to make and is willing to make a commitment to eradicate poverty among its people.” ~Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks upon signing the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964.