Community Action Month highlights important role of community agencies
Published 3:01 pm Wednesday, May 10, 2023
BY NORMA TREMBLAY
UETHDA’s Community Services Director
Jimmy lived on the streets for years. His main residence was under a bridge on the east side of town. He bore the scars of the “homeless life” – he suffered from a traumatic brain injury after being nearly beat to death during his time of living on the streets. Our Neighborhood Service Center staff were able to help him locate an apartment and assist him with his rent deposit and four months of rent on a pro-rated basis.
When asked if he was excited about getting his own home, Jimmy broke into a radiant smile. With a twinkle in his eye, he responded with great enthusiasm: “I get my own key, and I can lock my door so nobody can come in and hurt me!”
Jimmy is just one example of the many “neighbors” in our region who have been helped through the collaborative efforts of the Upper East Tennessee Human Development Agency (UETHDA) and our cooperative partnerships.
Tom is another. He was a social work intern at one of our local Neighborhood Service Centers, where he gained hands-on experience working with our neighbors before graduating with a Bachelor of Social Work degree. As a struggling full-time college student who could only work a few hours a week, all of Tom’s income went to buying gas, food and paying rent. Through our education program, UETHDA was able to buy clothes for Tom so when he graduated, he would be prepared to enter the workforce dressed like the professional he is.
Not only was UETHDA a place where Tom could complete his educational goals, but it also became a place where he could understand and experience the satisfaction of knowing UETHDA is there to assist others who are fighting to have that same chance in life to earn a degree, gain employment, and become totally self-sufficient.
The month of May marks Community Action Month, a time to celebrate the success stories of Jimmy and Tom as well as those of so many others who have been helped by community action agencies. They inspire us with their strength and resilience!
Too many of our neighbors struggle to achieve a good quality of life. An estimated 43 million of us are still living in poverty, and many are just one missed paycheck away from hardship.
The nation’s 1000-plus community action agencies support children and families in 99% of America’s counties with life-improving services that create new pathways to prosperity. We accomplish this by connecting individuals and families to programs that help them succeed, such as Head Start for children, job retraining for adults, affordable housing for families, and utility assistance for seniors.
Here are just a few of the ways we have helped during the 2021-22 fiscal year:
– Our agency served nearly 23,000 families at our nine Neighborhood Service Centers in our eight-county region, empowering them to attain self-sufficiency.
– We served 1,148 Head Start children in 62 classrooms – most of these children completed a professional dental examination (90%) and a medical exam (80%). We also served them nutritionally balanced breakfasts, lunches and snacks.
– Our Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provided 11,017 households with energy assistance in the amount of $5.7 million dollars. Another 3,233 households were served by the LIHEAP Crisis Program, costing around $2 million dollars.
– Through our Commodities Program, we helped 7,431 households (10,284 individuals) with boxes of food valued at nearly $365,000.
– We weatherized 21 homes at a total of more than $201,000. This program provides energy-saving measures to homes to reduce energy costs.
– And, we served 22 Self-Sufficiency Program participants – three graduated with bachelor’s degrees and another three received associate’s degreeS.
Meanwhile, on the statewide level, Tennessee has a total of 20 community action agencies that annually assists thousands – nearly 294,000 residents in 2021 – with low incomes, many of whom lack health care or report having disabilities and include children living in poverty, senior citizens, veterans and even active military persons, according to Kreda Yokley, executive director of the Tennessee Association of Community Action.
Kreda noted that many don’t realize how much of an impact community action agencies make and how hard their staffs work.
“This is our chance to shine the light on their efforts, to thank them,” she said. “It’s not just the people with low incomes or people in need, but it’s the entire community that benefits when an agency is successful in implementing a transformative project.”
Community Action Month’s Purpose
Community Action Month is a time for these agencies to come together and elevate community action as a voice and driving force for opportunity in America. It’s a chance to promote community action programs and services that help families succeed. And, the month serves as an affirmation of the power of our network to help others.
As we reflect on the importance of community action this month, I want to share the “Promise of Community Action” because I think it explains what we do best: Community Action changes people’s lives, embodies the spirt of hope, improves communities, and makes America a better place to live. We care about the entire community, and we are dedicated to helping people help themselves and each other.
For more information on UETHDA and our services, visit www.uethda.org or call us at 423-246-6180 to talk with one of our Family Engagement Specialists.