Albemarle County Board of Supervisors          

October 6, 2004

 

 

On behalf of the Board of Directors and staff of the Monticello Area Community Action Agency, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to report to the County regarding agency activities and community needs. 

 

As engaged community members I know you are familiar with MACAA.  In the just 3 years I’ve been here, however, I’ve learned two things about this agency.  First, it feels like every Albemarle County resident has some kind of connection to the agency either as a former employee or board member, someone who has gotten assistance from us, someone who has volunteered at one of our events.  Second, there are lots of different ideas about what MACAA does.  So, for the record, I’d like to take just a minute or so to re-familiarize you with the agency. 

 

MACAA is a community action agency, created in 1965 pursuant to federal legislation designed to help fight the war on Poverty.  Founded by community leaders like Drewary Brown and Rev. Henry Mitchell, the agency – originally named the Charlottesville/Albemarle Community Action Organization - began with small programming such as a new six week pre-school program, Head Start and Neighborhood Youth Corp.

 

Providing services in Albemarle County, as well as the City of Charlottesville and Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson Counties, the agency now employs about 90 staff and delivers ten core programs in fulfilling it’s mission to eradicate poverty and to improve the lives of people living in our communities.

 

Our core programming, in one form or another, is familiar to many in the region; our Youth Programs include Head Start, Parents in Education, Beating the Odds and Project Discovery; our case management programs include Family Support and Development and Rural Outreach; we operate Hope House, our transitional housing program and a transportation program, Wheels-to-Work.  Our CARES program provides emergency cash assistance to needy families to prevent eviction or utility termination.  Finally, in a collaboration with the Thomas Jefferson Health Department, we provide health and outreach services through the Jefferson Area CHIP Program.

 

We are fortunate to be well supported by the communities we work in.  Of the $3.7 million dollars MACAA will receive this year, Albemarle will grant to us just over $180,000.  The agency will also receive about $285,000 from Charlottesville and $107,000 from the United Way.  The agency itself also raises in excess of $165,000 each year through general fundraising activities to help pay for programming.

 

MACAA is a mission-driven organization that focuses on the documented needs of low-income families and individuals.  As such, each year we formally gather together a wide set of data we use to determine the various needs of our constituents. I’m not going to got into great detail today about the process, but I would like to point out a few of the key findings we see and for which we’ll need your support if we are to tackle them in the future.

 

Limited English Proficiency (LEP) issues constitute an enormous need in this community.  According to the Virginia Dept. of Education, the number of LEP students in Albemarle County has grown over 400% since 1997.  Although Spanish is the primary home language of these students, it’s not the only one our clients speak.  For example, in the past year our Head Start Program has had to cope with 8 other languages in delivering services; Arabic, Chinese, Dari, Italian, Swahili, Portuguese, Turkish and Vietnamese. 

 

Limited English proficiency creates two sets of problems for the people we serve.  First, an inability to communicate effectively limits opportunities for training and employment as well as access to human service programming.  This means not only that many adults may not be able to find better paying jobs to support their families but that they can’t easily access sources of assistance to help them in the meantime.  Second, service providers like MACAA are challenged to find ways of bridging the communication gap with limited resources to do so. To this point, some of our programming has been more successful than others in dealing with this issue- such as CHIP and Head Start – hiring bilingual staff and taking advantage of other translation and interpretation resources in the community.  As demand for these skills and services increase, however, finding new, cost-effective and reasonable ways to address this issue will be required.  Perhaps the most important tasks taken on by local non-profits – outreach to under-served populations – is most imperiled by this changing demographic. 

 

The agency is still sorting through data provided by our annual Client Needs Survey.  While I won’t offer any in-depth analysis here, the top ten needs identified by low-income clients living in Albemarle County offers an interesting snapshot of life in poverty. From one to ten, the needs most often identified are:

·        Regular dental care

·        Help with the social behavior of a child

·        Help with improving reading skills of a child

·        Help paying utility bills (electric or water)

·        Major repairs on car you own

·        Financial assistance to buy food

·        Move to more affordable housing

·        Learn about food nutrition

·        Dental care for a current condition

·        Financial assistance to purchase a car

 

The agency has a number of initiatives pertaining to these identified needs that I’d like to share with you.  In an effort to address housing issues – linked to needs for affordable housing, credit counseling and utility assistance – MACAA has joined with area housing agencies - including the Albemarle County Housing Office – to design and implement a counseling program for residents on the Section 8 Choice Voucher waiting list.  Based on the idea that more voucher recipients will be more likely to actually “lease up” and use the housing subsidy they receive if they are better prepared to enter the housing market at that time, we’ve designed a four part counseling course to address credit and credit repair, rights and responsibilities as tenants, home maintenance and repair, and housing search techniques.  The neatest thing about the program is that community members who complete the program will be eligible to borrow dollars to be used for security deposits – one obstacle typically preventing folks from finding housing and being able to use their subsidy. 

 

MACAA is also working to address some of the financial crisis issues identified in the survey.   With support from the County, Charlottesville and the United Way, the agency now houses and administers the CARES Program.  This programming runs along two tracks.  First, with funds provided by area faith-based organizations, the program provides direct cash assistance to families at risk of losing their homes or having their utilities terminated due to non-payment.  These funds are not simple hand-outs to those in need.  In fact, to be eligible for cash assistance, that household must have a “balanced budget” with the need for assistance due to a temporary, one-time occurrence such as unexpected health-related bills or temporary work-lay off.

 

Second, CARES will also function as a significant source of referrals to other community service providers.  Although we can’t take on a long-term advocacy or case management role, the intent is to provide targeted referrals for needy community members so that they can receive the assistance they need.  Our goal is for no one to leave that office without knowing where they can go for help.

 

I’ll mention that the dental issue – top need on our client survey two of the last three years – has been a concern taken up by many community members.  The Charlottesville / Albemarle Dental Access Task Force (CADA) has been looking for solutions over the last six months and appears to be almost ready with a plan of attack.  We’ve been pursuing solutions ourselves – particularly for our Head Start students – but have only been fortunate enough to come up with the some limited resources to address this problem.  We are hopeful the CADA effort underway will help.

 

As I conclude, I would like to mention one more community need.  Perhaps due to extreme adherence to outcome measuring, dollars for program generalists have become virtually non-existent.  Every day community members who don’t necessarily need the specialized direct service we provide, seek us out for assistance.  What they need is someone to help them navigate through the resources available locally, to explain where childcare scholarships are available and how they work and who they can talk to about employment services.  And someone to come back to when they run into a roadblock or if another problem arises. What they need, in many ways, is a community advocate to help them make the connections they need and provide some amount of support to ensure they get it.  With caseloads high and programming becoming more and more specialized, we are less able to address this need than we were in past years.  We do feel that the CARES Program may allow us to do some of this, though that is clearly not the aim of that set of programming.

 

My point is that we need to be cognizant that not all problems fit into perfect logic models and can be subject to clean, discrete outcome measures.  And that we need to be sure that we have room for “all” in need, not just our community members with well articulated problems that can be addressed by generally prescribed programming. 

 

MACAA’s vision statement speaks of a community in which all are thriving.  We see a community that allocates its resources to provide for a high quality of life for everyone.  The employees of the Monticello Area Community Action Agency work everyday to make our community better, helping individuals and families to achieve to their highest potential.

 

 

 

Noah Schwartz

Executive Director

Monticello Area Community Action Agency

 

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