Next year will be my 40th in Community Action and one of the most satisfying outcomes of all that time has been the hundreds and hundreds of people I’ve met and been fortunate to build working relationships with – people whose passion and dedication for social justice is great and continually growing.
I mention this because, as we leave the old year behind and move into the new one, those hundreds of people – magnified by thousands and thousands across the state – will be more precious than ever as our state and nation navigate the unknown and potentially dangerous shoals of continued service to low-income households and communities.
While every transition into a new year foreshadows uncertainty, there are more than the usual amount of questions this year, due in great part to last month’s elections. What will the Trump administration look like? What will be their view on low-income policy and operational issues? What will potential changes mean for our Community Action network and the multitude of other agencies serving low-income individuals?
Most importantly, what will these potential changes mean to low-income households and their efforts to escape poverty? Will we see more attention paid and support provided to those in the shadows? More creativity and opportunity for low-income individuals to achieve economic self-sufficiency? Or will we see a growth in – and hardening of – the mean-spirited policies that were all too prevalent in 2016?
On the state level, the last two years saw an unprecedented level of attention paid to existing low-income programs, policies and services; almost all of this attention based on the belief that the best way to help someone is with ‘sticks’, not ‘carrots’. With current legislative control more firmly esconsed after the November elections, will we see a continuation and/or expansion of this attitude? Or a more humanistic, cooperative, enabling approach to attacking poverty, one that treats low-income families as equal partners in their attempts to achieve economic self-sufficiency?
Many of us are familiar with the phrase the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. (and many others) used that “the arc of justice bends toward justice.” A slightly lengthier reference to this same concept, written anonymously in the last 1800s, expands on the phrase:
“We cannot understand the moral Universe. The arc is a long one, and our eyes reach but a little way; we cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; but we can divine it by conscience, and we surely know that it bends toward justice. Justice will not fail, though wickedness appears strong, and has on its side the armies and thrones of power, the riches and the glory of the world, and though poor men crouch down in despair. Justice will not fail and perish out from the world of men, nor will what is really wrong and contrary to God’s real law of justice continually endure.”
It is easy to look over the political and policy landscape going into 2017 and “crouch down in despair.” But Community Action is not made that way. Our state and our country are not made that way. The truth is that tens of thousands of low-income families escape poverty every year and that Community Action Agencies are, across the state, doing marvelous, innovative work with limited resources. The truth is that the vast majority of our fellow citizens want to help their neighbors; they want to help low-income households achieve economic self-sufficiency; they realize we are all in this together.
The truth is that the difference is in methods, not goals. And, as long as that remains the case, we will continue to be optimistic about the future, continue to be engaged in serving our communities, continue to believe the future will be a bright one and that our network’s efforts to work towards social justice are important and worthwhile. We will continue to believe that the ‘arc of the moral Universe’ bends toward justice … that justice will not fail … and that the ‘real law of justice continually endures.’
Happy Holidays to all of you and yours … and WISCAP’s best wishes for a healthy, happy and productive 2017!
l. to r. – Robert Fait, Bank of Mauston Board of Directors; Roxanne Shragal, Bank of Mauston Administrative Assistant; Michael Lindert, Bank of Mauston President; Charlie Krupa – CWCAC Board Vice President; JK Walsh, Bank of Mauston Vice President; Fred Hebert, CWCAC Executive Director
Central Wisconsin Community Action Council, Inc. (CWCAC, Inc.) continues to pursue development of affordable housing. The agency was awarded a grant of $412,000 from the Division of Housing & Energy in September for building a single-level linear structure in the City of Mauston. At the request and endorsement of Juneau County Human Services Department and the Director, Scott Ethun, CWCAC, Inc. will construct a ten-apartment building consisting of eight (1) bedroom units and two (2) bedroom units. Tenants will be referred from the counties Community Support Program and Families in Transition.
Central Wisconsin Community Action Council, Inc. purchased two large lots within the City of Mauston; one will be for this project, the other eventually for an office building. In addition to grant funding, the Bank of Mauston will provide a mortgage to ensure construction funding. Total cost is budgeted at $654,000. Construction will begin this fall with completion expected in the spring of 2017.
There are hundreds of thousands of low-income individuals in Wisconsin (13% of the state’s population); individuals attempting to get a leg up on the ladder to self-sufficiency. There are also hundreds of low-income communities in our state – most very small and very rural – also reaching for self-sufficiency in their ability to provide even basic services to their residents. Basic services, for example, such as safe and efficient water and wastewater systems.
For twenty-four years, Bill Brown served as WISCAP’s resource to these communities. He came to WISCAP in June of 1992 to set-up, organize and implement federally-funded water and wastewater systems for these very rural and very small Wisconsin communities. Over the years, these services grew and expanded. As WISCAP’s Rural Development Director, Bill grew a staff; a very efficient staff and one well-accepted in the communities in which they worked. Bill developed strong working relationships with Wisconsin’s eleven Native American tribes, opening doors of trust and cooperation for many essential services that continue to this day. He kept pushing us all to look at expanding the Rural Development Department’s scope to include provision of other essential community services, helping small towns, villages and unincorporated units to have fair access at Community Development Block Grants and other public programming to improve living conditions in their communities.
Rock County ranks fourth in Wisconsin in the level of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). First Choice Health Center, a program of Community Action, Inc., is hosting a free testing clinic in Janesville on August 31 to help reduce those numbers.
The racial disparity among those suffering from STIs is even more striking. The Rock County Health Department reports that while African-Americans make up roughly 5% of the county’s population, African-Americans account for 25% of the chlamydia cases, 57% of the gonorrhea cases and 66% of the co-infection cases (two STIs at the same time).
“African-Americans are disproportionately impacted by sexually transmitted infections in the United States,” says Marc Perry, director of community programs at Community Action, Inc. “That’s all the more reason why it is critical that everyone gets tested and knows their status. When you get tested, you take control of your reproductive health.” Continue Reading
Grace Jones, Executive Director of Couleecap, the Community Action Agency serving La Crosse, Monroe, Vernon and Crawford Counties in western Wisconsin, was awarded the prestigious Charles M. Hill, Sr. Award for Housing Excellence at the 2016 A Home for Everyone statewideaffordable housing conference.
The Charles M. Hill, Sr. Award for Housing Excellence is given to an individual who has displayed a long-term commitment to the provision of affordable housing and had a lasting influence on the advancement of affordable housing in Wisconsin. Ms. Jones was honored for her tireless efforts to fight poverty and promote self-sufficiency; for leading innovative efforts to provide housing for those most in need; for her passionate commitment to develop programs to serve the homeless in her community; and for her collaborative spirit in addressing community challenges.
“It is such an honor to be selected for an award named after one of my housing heroes, Chuck Hill” said Ms. Jones. “This work is so important and makes such a fundamental and lasting impact on the families we help.”
The Wisconsin Collaborative for Affordable Housing consists of community-based organizations, private concerns, government agencies and advocates committed to promoting the development and preservation of affordable housing throughout Wisconsin. The Collaborative organizes the annual A Home for Everyone conference to provide a public forum for the purpose of focusing on these issues for low-income families and individuals. This year’s conference was the Collaborative’s 20th such effort.
For more information about Couleecap and its programs, visit www.couleecap.org.