FAREWELL – UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN

I’ve found myself this week in more of a reflective mood than usual. Easily understood; my time as Executive Director at WISCAP is ending with the month of June as I head into retirement. And in my thoughts, surprisingly, I have found myself having something in common with White House Chief-of-Staff Reince Priebus. We both consider ourselves “blessed.” Although, respectfully, I would offer that I have a more legitimate rationale for this emotion.

I feel blessed because I have been able to spend my entire career of 40 years in
service to Community Action; working to help advance economic self-sufficiency for our low-income neighbors and doing so in the company of some of the finest and most dedicated public servants to be found anywhere.

The underpinning of Community Action, when created as part of the 1960’s War on Poverty, was that poverty is best attacked through decisions made by local communities, fought on the local level, with access to resources across the spectrum: federal, state, local and private. That underpinning has not changed; it remains as valid and as powerful today as it did when I cashed my first paycheck from CAP Services, headquartered in Stevens Point, back in 1977.

Community Action Agencies in Wisconsin – and across the nation – are doing tremendous work: helping create jobs and businesses for low-income individuals, giving a Head Start to those in pre-school, building housing and making existing housing more energy efficient, providing transitional assistance to the homeless, being a resource for food and other emergency assistance, and on and on.

Last year, in 2016, Wisconsin’s Community Action Agencies served over 212,000 individuals. And they did it in partnership with their local community organizations, churches and businesses. It doesn’t matter if the community is urban or rural. It doesn’t matter if the community is Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative. Community Action continues to work in partnership with all.

Over the years, I have seen this work expand and solidify. And I have seen agencies grow more innovative as they have learned more about the root causes of poverty, tried new approaches and pursued new directions – and as they have been forced to do more even as the resources available for this work have been shrinking.

All of that is growth and change for the better. But I have also seen a change in our society’s attitudes on poverty that has not been for the better. As a nation, we used to wage war on poverty. Now we seem more often to be waging war on poor people.

I don’t have an explanation on why this is. Perhaps those of us in Community Action have done less than required in our core responsibility of educating the public on poverty and the reality faced by households infected by this disease. Perhaps there is so much fear and stress in our society today that many turn easily to attacking those with less as a twisted sort of defense mechanism.

Whatever the cause, it is tragic and it is totally wrong. I have met hundreds of low-income families and individuals over my career and I have found myself constantly in awe of their strength and courage in dealing with their circumstances. Waking up every morning facing the stress of getting through that one day. Will there be enough food on the table? Will the car make it to work without breaking down? How to afford medical care for a sick child? Will the rent or mortgage be covered this month; will there still be a roof over the family? Will the children be safe in a less than ideal neighborhood? And then going to bed every night sighing with exhaustion from surviving another day, with nothing left to give for the dreams and longer-term goals of a brighter future down the road.

Instead of attacking those in poverty, as if they have willingly chosen the life they are forced to live; we should, instead, honor their fortitude, respect their struggles, and re-commit ourselves to providing the tools that are needed to make the American dream a reality for all.

The author John Donne famously wrote: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” We are all in this together. Not one of us will be able to reach the full potential of our own dreams until we all make sure that opportunities to reach that same potential exist for everyone else.

I know that Community Action Agencies will continue to strive towards that goal of inclusion and equal opportunity. And I am just as confident that WISCAP, under its new leadership, will continue to be at their side in that struggle.

If I have one parting wish, it is that our society, as a whole, will dedicate itself to engaging once again in a serious and comprehensive ‘War on Poverty’ and that we will do so with sufficient resources and with love and respect for our low-income friends and neighbors.

Bob Jones
June 29, 2017

COULEECAP HIRES NEW EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Couleecap, Inc. has announced the hiring of a new executive director, Hetti Brown, to succeed Grace Jones, who has been the Community Action Agency’s leader since 1986 and is retiring in July.

Hetti comes to Couleecap from the Deleware Department of Health and Social Services, Division of Public Health, where she was the executive director of the Office of Animal Welfare. In that role, Hetti led her team to develop social service programs for pet owners with low incomes and to address emerging issues concerning community health and welfare. Among her accomplishments, Hetti reformed the state emergency response and sheltering program for people with pets, chaired a state task force to help people with mental health disorders, and conducted research to inform outreach efforts and programs for persons receiving public assistance. She also worked closely with state and county lawmakers to author and pass laws establishing new state services, launched job skill programs for youth and adult offenders, and developed training for judges, law enforcement officers, and field case workers.

Hetti recently relocated to La Crosse to join her husband, an Assistant Professor in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. However, Hetti is not new to the Midwest. She grew up in a rural farming community in Northeast Missouri and attended college in Southern Illinois.

In announcing Hetti’s hiring, current Executive Director Grace Jones said, “Hetti’s firsthand knowledge of poverty from experience as a child, as well as her work in the non-profit and public sectors, have inspired her passion for helping people by tackling the root causes of poverty in a compassionate and respectful manner. Hetti is guided by core principles, which she carries into every role: center one’s focus on the people being served; build barrier-free programs; invest in organizational culture; and cultivate diverse community partnerships. As the new director of Couleecap, Hetti will focus on ensuring sound business acumen, securing the future for the organization through innovation and fundraising, fostering the culture to build employee engagement and effectiveness, and engaging the community to situate Couleecap as the premier Community Action Agency in Wisconsin.”

WISCAP PRESENTS ANNUAL AWARDS FOR ACHIEVEMENTS IN COMMUNITY ACTION

The Wisconsin Community Action Program Association (WISCAP) held its annual meeting on May 22-24, celebrating Community Action Month. As part of this event, WISCAP hosted its 2017 Annual Luncheon and Awards Program on Tuesday, May 23rd.  The association presented these awards on behalf of its network of sixteen Community Action Agencies, the Foundation for Rural Housing and United Migrant Opportunities Services (UMOS) so as to recognize individuals or organizations who have gone above and beyond in helping to improve and further the goals of Community Action in Wisconsin in fighting poverty.

WISCAP’s Outstanding Advocate Award was given to Dr. Ken Adler of Eau Claire, who was nominated by the Western Dairyland Economic Opportunity Council (WDEOC). Dr. Adler was recognized for his exemplary leadership advancing the causes and principles of Community Action through his efforts in support of transportation resources or low-income, his activities in helping to address homelessness in the local area, and his numerous volunteer activities. Dr. Adler also was the founder of the Chippewa Valley Free Clinic in 1997, where he served as medical director for 13 years and where he still volunteers as a physician.

WISCAP’s Outstanding Friend of Community Action Award  was presented to the Hofmeister family and their team at Spectra Print in Stevens Point. Spectra\ Print was nominated by CAP Services due to their generosity to the cause of Community Action through their donation of tens of thousands of dollars in printing and services over the years.

WISCAP’s Exceptional Community Action Staff Member Award, which recognizes a Community Action employee who has demonstrated the spirit of Community Action, went to Mr. Randy Roemhild of West CAP. Randy was given the award posthumously, having passed away suddenly earlier this year. He received this recognition for this excellent work as West CAP’s Jump Start / Ideal Auto Manager, helping to provide over 500 reliable, late-model Jump Start cars for the families in West CAP’s 7-county, northwest Wisconsin service area.

WISCAP’s Self-Sufficiency Award is meant to recognize an individual who, with the aid of their local Community Action Agency, has overcome poverty and achieved self-sufficiency. The 2017 award went to Ms. Alice Griffin of Neenha, Wisconsin. Alice is a single mother of five children who, with the help of CAP Services, her local CAA, was able to find a job closer to home, refinance her house, and get her finances under control. Alice’s success in overcoming her barriers to self-sufficiency embody what Community Action aims to do day-in and day-out.

In addition to the above awards, WISCAP recognized the achievements of two members of the association’s Board of Directors who will be retiring.  Jim Martinez, Executive Vice President at United Migrant Opportunities Services (UMOS) represented UMOS on the Board from 2010 to 2017. Grace Jones, Executive Director at Couleecap, Inc. in western Wisconsin, is stepping down after thirty-one years as Executive Director and as a Board member for WISCAP. This page will have more to say about Grace’s career before she leaves in early July.

In addition to WISCAP’s awards, Kris Randall, Division Administrator for the  Department of Children and Families (DCF), presented the 2017 Governor’s Award for Excellence in Community Action to CAP Services for their success in using Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) to expand affordable housing in rural communities. The central Wisconsin Community Action Agency has completed twenty-one (21) LIHTC projects focused on senior citizens and families in eleven (11) rural counties. The Governor’s award is chosen from nominations submitted to DCF by a joint committee of staff from the department and the Governor’s Office. Selection is made in accordance with six program criteria and the award is presented to an outstanding program that characterizes the spirit of Community Action by helping eliminate poverty and giving families hope.

WISCAP appreciates all those who attended and participated in this year’s Annual Luncheon and Awards Program. We all look forward to continued accomplishments in the Community Action world during the remainder of 2017.

WISCAP COMMENTS ON TRUMP ADMINISTRATION PROPOSED BUDGET

A nation’s budget is not just a blueprint for spending and revenues reflecting the country’s activities. It is also, importantly, a statement on the country’s values, its priorities, its’ vision for how it will work towards creating that elusive “more perfect union.”

In this last regard, the budget unveiled by the Trump Administration earlier this week is an unmitigated disaster. It not only will pull the rug out from under millions of low-income husbands, wives, parents, grandparents and children – hundreds of thousands here in Wisconsin – it will do so with a shrug and a “who cares” from the federal government.

The Community Services Block Grant: core funding for Wisconsin’s Community Action Agencies, enabling the creation of innovative programs leading to self-sufficiency (like our Job and Business Development program assisting low-income entrepreneurs) and serving as the “glue” that allows CAAs to leverage other numerous resources for local communities ($167 million in 2016). Currently funded at $713 million, the Trump Administration proposes $0 funding in Federal Fiscal Year 2018. Last year, Wisconsin’s CAAs served over 212,000 low-income individuals; it is impossible to gauge the number that could be directly and negatively impacted by the Trump budget proposal to zero out funding. But … “who cares.”

The Weatherization Assistance Program: The federal Weatherization Assistance program provides resources to weatherize the homes of low-income households, thereby helping those families and individuals to save substantially on their energy bills and providing for a healthier and more comfortable living environment while also helping to conserve energy and essential natural resources. Weatherization also serves as a valuable economic engine; for every one dollar spent on weatherization in the local community, that dollar turns over two to three times in added economic benefit to businesses and taxpayers. Last year, the weatherization program (funded nationally at $230 million) provided $8 million to Wisconsin; Community Action Agencies provided weatherization to 3,476 homes. The Trump Administration budget proposes $0 in FY 2018 funding, zeroing out the program. But … “who cares.”

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP):  LIHEAP has served as an absolutely essential benefit for hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin citizens in paying their energy bills. It has been a particularly effective tool in preventing or mitigating elderly poverty. It has been of value to all Wisconsin’s utility customers in that it has helped reduce uncollectible accounts which would otherwise be absorbed by all customers. Last year, Wisconsin residents eligible for the program received an average benefit of $243 toward their energy bills; a total of over $80 million in energy assistance in Wisconsin. Here, too, the Trump Administration proposes to zero out funding for LIHEAP in FY 2018. No benefits will mean increased uncollectibles and the attendant increased burden on bills of all customers; it will also mean increased health and safety danger when power is disconnected for failure to pay a bill. But … “who cares.”

These are just three programs that are of particular importance to Community Action Agencies in Wisconsin and throughout the nation. Across the board, the Trump Administration budget proposes to eviscerate or abolish many other programs which are successfully helping low-income families and individuals work towards economic self-sufficiency: Medicaid, Community Development Block Grants, HOME Housing Partnership program, Senior Community Service Employment program, Corporation for National and Community Service, Legal Services Corporation, Woman, Infants and Children, Community Economic Development Grants … the list goes on and on in mind-numbing cruelty.

Contrary to much of the media noise, these programs are working; as the just-released Poverty in Wisconsin report (authored by the Institute for Research on Poverty) shows, for the first time since before the Great Recession, poverty rates declined in Wisconsin in 2015. If the Trump Administration is successful – or even somewhat successful – in achieving its proposed cuts, we will be immediately tumbling back downwards, creating more poverty and stripping away the hopes for economic self-sufficiency from hundreds of thousands of low-and-moderate income families.

The authors of the proposed budget bill are saying, by their actions, “who cares”. But we in the Community Action world have faith that the vast majority of Wisconsin’s citizens and leaders are saying “we care” in response. Because we have faith that we are a more decent, a more moral and a wiser nation than the FY 2018 Trump budget would have us believe. And that we will not let it stand.

Bob Jones,
Executive Director
WISCAP

A Message for the New Year from WISCAP

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!

Bob Jones
Executive Director
WISCAP

Housing Remains Priority for Central Wisconsin Community Action Council

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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.

Bill Brown, WISCAP Rural Development Director 1992-2016, Passes Away

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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.
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