(Posted June 4, 2015)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Reducing poverty and improving quality of life is the name of the game for the Community Action Organization
In an annual report to the Madison County commissioners, Rochelle Twining, CAO executive director, stated that the agency served 1,273 households in 2014.
Much of the assistance went toward utility costs for electricity, gas, coal, wood and corn pellets. The agency also provided minor emergency home repairs and weatherization for 57 units. Seventy-eight percent of the individuals who received weatherization were senior citizens.
New programs also thrived in 2014.
“For those of us who have worked in this field for the last 20 years, the face of poverty has changed dramatically,” Twining said. “Seventy-five percent of the people we serve work but not at a wage that always lets them meet their needs. There’s also more episodic poverty, where people experience a crisis and go in and out of poverty.”
In response, CAO created a family development program that focuses on goals for positive improvement. The program helps people work toward anything from getting a driver’s license to getting their GED.
“We have 132 families now enrolled in Madison County. It’s been wildly successful,” Twining said. “It’s a voluntary program, which means it’s not tied to getting any benefit. So, we try to offer incentives to participate, like family fun recreation.”
Financial literacy is another CAO service. Clients who go through individual economic development classes receive $2 for every $1 they save toward expenses like a computer, higher education, or a down payment on a house.
Additionally, CAO’s Volunteers in Tax Assistance (VITA) prepare tax returns at no charge, saving clients an average $125. Three years ago, volunteers completed 30 returns. Last year, they completed 85.
One of the biggest needs in Madison County is affordable housing, Twining continued. Recent progress on that front includes rehabilitation of the London Area Apartments and the start of a community garden there with help from the Madison County Master Gardeners. CAO also has applied for funding to rehabilitate the Devonshire Apartments.
Other CAO programs help clients acquire basic computer skills, assist with sewer tap-in fees, and work in tandem with the Madison County Sheriff’s Office to provide emergency food and shelter.
This past year, CAO took on a leadership role in connecting victims of domestic violence with needed services. The agency also opened a homeless shelter on Route 38. Since September, the shelter has served several families, providing them with a place to say for three to four weeks before they find housing of their own.
“That was very much a need in this community for a very long time,” Twining said.
“I think Community Action offers many services people don’t realize,” said David Dhume, a county commissioner and member of the CAO board. “I’m really impressed with the growth of Community Action. It is a very stable organization.”
The services CAO provides are based on the specific needs of the communities served as determined through a needs assessment.
For more information about those services, call (740) 852-3511 or 1-800-858-4452. The local Community Action Organization serves Delaware, Madison, Union, Champaign, Logan and Shelby counties.
Snapshot of Poverty in Madison County
Total families: 10,443
Poverty rate: 12.5 percent
Families in poverty: 797
Unemployment: 6.8 percent
Average annual wage: $39,608
Self-sufficiency wage: $8.65 per hour
Households receiving home energy assistance: 9.7 percent