This past year has been full of change for all of us. Even as we have all wanted to find a sense of normalcy, the pandemic has lingered on, the job market continues to shift, and not all communities have felt the economic recovery equally. Through all this change, we have remained focused on one simple idea—we are here for you. We are here for our customers, our communities, our volunteers, and our staff.
As our environment and communities have changed, our programs continued to adapt to meet needs. In some cases that has meant bringing services to new areas. As we head into our first full year of being the Community Action Agency for Muskegon and Oceana Counties, we have worked diligently to bring even more services to these communities. Our Weatherization program doubled in size under the new infrastructure package and added five new counties. Not all programs were growing; many services that were available during the height of the pandemic began winding down meaning we had to find innovative ways to empower families to meet their goals.
All this expansion and change requires a team of people who are dedicated and willing to learn on the fly. Like so many employers across the country, recruitment and hiring have been moving targets. The shift in the job market has pushed us to re-evaluate our strengths and focus on why so many of our staff do stay with us. I have been with the agency for 34 years, and I am continually inspired by this amazing group of people who work so hard to help people and change lives.
As we move forward into a new fiscal year, the hard work will continue. We will be taking our Community Needs Assessment to help build and support our new strategic plan. We will work to continue building programs and presence in our new counties as well as our existing service area.
We will, simply put, do everything we can to be here for you.
Jill Sutton, Executive Director
We thought that 2020 was a tough year, but 2021 seemed to be just as hard to get through. Although, once again, I saw our agency and staff reach levels I have never seen before!
The pandemic has changed our way of life, inflicted dire consequences in our communities, and challenged the strength of our collective spirit. Most importantly, it has caused us to plan better, think clearer, and act faster.
Thankfully, I am continually reminded that, despite the constant adaptations and obstacles, our communities have pulled together to get through. Pulling together, working together—concepts that are at the core of Community Action.
Our team has worked diligently with tenants and landlords alike to avert hundreds of families from being evicted. Our Weatherization program has built bridges with private contractors to increase our ability to help people’s homes be warmer, more comfortable, and more affordable. Our early childhood team has worked to build even stronger relationships with our families and partners to ensure continued delivery of services. Our commodity food programs continue to provide nutritious edibles to people in need. Our housing counselors have helped many people remain in their homes. And our partnership and collaboration in Gladwin and Midland counties have helped move the recovery of those communities forward after the devastating flood.
All in all, we have had a busy year even as the pandemic remains in the forefront of our conversations. We just hope that this next year brings us positive thoughts and solutions.
Enjoy this report that highlights the amazing reach and outcomes of our programs. The undercurrent of all that good work is the unheralded efforts of our staff, volunteers, partner agencies, and community-minded businesses to build a network to lift those most in need.
We truly appreciate your ongoing support as we continue to serve people the best we can!!
Jill Sutton, Executive Director
Who would have thought that 2020 was going to be a year to remember for a lifetime? Worldwide, we have experienced a pandemic that has changed our perspective and the way we do business. In the United States, far too many of us have lost a loved one or have witnessed the adverse health and economic impacts of COVID-19.
Looking back, we started the new year with good ideas and plans, but things changed quickly. Within a month of the pandemic hitting, most of our staff were working from home. We tried to adapt as quickly as we could not knowing what would come next. Our food program lost all its volunteers which fortunately we could fill with some of our regular staff to pack food because their jobs had suddenly changed. Throughout, our staff rose to meet the rapid-fire changes to our work.
New programs have been developed to meet the pandemic crisis. The Eviction Diversion Program has helped pay rent for people during this crisis so they did not have to go without a place to live. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) was initiated and allowed the agency to meet community needs to include providing personal need kits to over 1,200 people! Expanded funding allowed the agency to do more for the homeless population than ever before. Zoom and other technologies became a critical tool for our Head Start and Early Head Start staff as they maintained services and support to their families. Then there were additional grants received such as the Water Assistance Program that paid past due bills from March through December. Also, the agency received additional funds to help homeowners with their plumbing needs. All in all, the agency’s funding was increased by over $3 million with some of the services remaining available this next year.
Early last summer, amid the pandemic, two of our counties experienced a catastrophic flood, which required a rapid mobilized response not experienced before. The agency began by delivering water and cleaning supplies later inheriting the charge of hosting multiple committees for the recovery process. This will last a couple of years, but many of the houses are being repaired to be lived in once again.
While this is not the way we generally do business, we are appreciative of being asked to serve our communities in a way we’ve never done before. By giving our customers a hand up, we can see them improve their situation with hopes that no more struggles are in their future. Soon enough, we’ll be seeing a hopeful vaccination for this disease.
As always, we truly appreciate your support and guidance along the way. May the new year be kind to you and may we continue “helping people, changing lives.”
Jill Sutton, Executive Director
“The secret to growth is helping others grow.” Julian Hall
It is a privilege and honor to help others grow while working in the Community Action network. We strive to identify opportunities to expand our ability to serve and to overcome obstacles. In my 30 plus years with the agency, I have rarely seen two years that look the same. This past year has been extraordinary as each of our departments have worked diligently to prepare for growth in programs and staff numbers while strengthening and enhancing our infrastructure.
“Somewhere along the way, we must learn that there is nothing greater than to do something for others.” Martin Luther King Jr.
In Fiscal Year 2019, we maintained our quality programs surpassing many goals and outcomes. We received outstanding scores on monitoring reviews and audits, and overall, served more individuals than planned. As we identified growth needs for the agency’s programs, we sought new funding sources as well as secured expansion support. Moving forward in the new year, we will have the ability to assist more young children and families through Early Head Start, increase and intensify our services to support homeless veterans, create educational classes on home energy conservation, and increase free tax assistance to seniors.
“Helping others in need is not only a responsibility of life; it is what gives meaning to life.” Mollie Marti
It takes special and skilled people to make community action work. In the past year, I have proudly watched our staff excel in their roles. They have recruited new employees that are full of energy and ideas, created internal and external partnerships resulting in teamwork at high levels, developed and enhanced service delivery methods, and conducted more community outreach resulting in expanded resources. Due to program and financial growth, we have also created several new jobs expanding the economic base in our communities.
“An empowered organization is one in which individuals have the knowledge, skill, desire and opportunity to personally succeed in a way that leads to collective organizational success.” M. Shawn Covey
With this year’s accomplishments as described throughout this report and our impending growth, we will continue to consider all the logistics that make our programs work, as well as the infrastructure needed to support this progression. This includes physical space to operate our programs, development of new sites, expansion of technology systems, purchase of new vehicles, and enhancement of administrative capacity. It has been and will continue to be all hands-on deck as our program staff work closely with Human Resources, Finance and Operations to make sure that new and expanded programs roll out with all systems good to go. It is never without growing pains, but we are nothing if not persistent. Persistent in our vision, persistent in service delivery, and persistent in our effort to empower our customers on their path to self-sufficiency. All in a day’s work.
Jill Sutton, Executive Director
Another year behind us with a new year upon its heels… this transition provides a unique time to reflect on what we have learned along the way…
Continuing to embrace life’s lessons provides each one of us, young or old, rich or poor, male or female, representing any culture, a chance to consider the path we want to take based on the path we may have left behind. We may encounter obstacles along the way causing us to think critically on whether we want to turn left or right; however, if you can identify the appropriate supports to lean on, or walk upon strong stepping stones that keep us balanced, we may find the way to our desired goals.
Let’s think about it. Whether we’re stuck in an avalanche of snow blinding our ability to see clearly; or we find ourselves neck deep in quicksand, something outside of our control may be holding us back. This may be a time to lean on a friend, family member or call your local Community Action Agency. Reaching out for help is truly a sign of strength and we value the opportunity to help others as they help themselves.
And for those that find themselves in these difficult situations, our Community Action continues to step in and provide stepping stones to direct individuals and families on a new or enhanced pathway. Programs, services, staff and volunteers all provide a solid foothold helping our customers find their way.
We are fully committed to providing quality programs aimed at empowering our participants. It is a privilege to be welcomed into their lives, families, and homes. We promise to seek out new resources to support our communities and will strive to be outstanding stewards of these funds to ensure continuity for those seeking our help.
Whether you are a volunteer, participant, community partner, stakeholder, board member or employee, we salute each and every one of you for your contribution to this process. May the new year bring us hope and balance as we contemplate the best way forward…
Looking back at this past year leaves me with mixed emotions. While trying to remain optimistic, I can see the triumphs of our local communities inviting new industry to the area; enhancing rural downtown buildings and housing options; economic growth continues to rise; and, residents continue to support retail buying. While on the flip side, we have also seen a fractured government that cannot seem to agree; saddened families and communities as a result of shootings in schools, churches, and at special events; residents worried about what could happen next for their health care; and, specifically in our region, low income people still struggle to make ends meet. So how do we find a way to remain positive and move forward?
John Lennon included some enriching thoughts in a song stating, “imagine all the people living for today.” Well, I believe his words remain accurate decades after the song “Imagine” was released. Our customers—people living on limited incomes or those working multiple jobs to pay the way—do have to live for today. They have to find a way to pay their bills, put food on their table, provide clothing for their children or care for extended family while remaining upbeat in a society that is not always supportive.
Furthermore, less people can afford to buy a home so they do not get the opportunity to earn equity for later years. Pay day lending firms require astronomical interest rates so if a person does need to borrow money, they may never get ahead with this liability. Student loan debt has grown to the point that they are in poverty before entering the workforce. Pensions and retirement accounts are most likely out of the question as the focus is on the ability to survive today.
So how can we help our customers and communities through this intense time and create potential for upcoming opportunities? We need to ensure that resources remain available for them locally, and at the State and Federal levels. We need to make sure we invest in supporting our neighbors through tough times so they can return to a stable life style. We need to advocate to the stakeholders, leaders and legislators that our country needs to support its own. Most of all, we need to let others know we care. We need to bring hope to their lives so that the positives outweigh the negatives. We need to remind everyone that small victories can have a big impact. We need to find ways to create bright pathways ahead.
“Imagine all people living life in peace.”
A half of a century…five decades…50 years… no matter how it is said, our non-profit organization has built a legacy serving people in poverty. The agency was incorporated in 1966 shortly following the federal creation of grassroots agencies known as a Community Action Partnership (CAP). To this day, you may hear historians refer to a CAP agency which have now coined the name Community Action Agency (CAA). Although our agency moved its central operations from a family garage, to a rental, and now to a permanent residence in Farwell and 14 satellite locations across the region, the organization has achieved great strides in developing a solid foundation of a highly performing community based establishment.
The “War on Poverty” spearheaded by President Lyndon B. Johnson, began a multitude of programs designed to help economically disadvantaged people work toward self-sufficiency. We continue this journey as we administer federal, state and local contracts that have been developed to respond to needs of local people residing in our regional service district. As you will see throughout this report, our programs range from homeless prevention, emergency heat and utility assistance, food support, home empowerment, and a wealth of early childhood and family programs.
We continue to listen to local guidance through our advisory councils and community needs assessments which allow us to our adapt our services to meet identified needs. We continue to fight the effects of poverty by providing educational support, case management, financial assistance, and more. We remain on the leading edge of our service delivery to ensure the best possible outcomes for our participants—young and old—as we deliver quality programs that meet or surpass monitoring reviews by the funders.
The heritage of Community Action can be found here in our region as we reach out to thousands each year while our peer agencies do the same throughout the state and nation. Although we may not see an end to the war on poverty, as President Johnson had predicted, we will continue to focus on the growth of Community Action impacting successful futures for many. Join us on this voyage and do your part to support children, families and seniors, as they move from surviving to thriving, while navigating the systems of care provided by the public or non-profit social service organizations in your community.
In many communities throughout the nation, agencies such as ours, are leading the way forging new opportunities for people living in poverty. Being a private non-profit gives us liberties to innovate while maintaining successful long-term programs that generate self-sufficiency for our participants. Community Action is known to be at the forefront in developing programs that are specific to local issues as identified in its triennial community needs assessment. We seek out new grants and funding opportunities that help us pioneer new solutions to local poverty issues.
As a member of an elaborate network of agencies at the community, state, and national level, you will find Community Action staff, management, and Board members alike, participating in steering committees, collaborative organizations, local and state associations, among others. Leadership and expertise is offered to ensure success ultimately supporting poverty agendas when applicable. A local example of this type of leadership includes our agency serving as the Homeless Assessment and Resource Agency (HARA) for two regional areas. This allows us to provide leadership, fiscal responsibilities, oversight, and a single point of contact for the area homeless programs.
Additionally, we create community development activities enhancing local capacity. We share our financial skills guiding and supporting smaller organizations in reaching their goals. We establish solid fiduciary oversight allowing them to work their magic in creating community opportunities. For example, we manage the funds for the Mid Michigan Honor Flight allowing WWII Veterans to visit the memorial in our nation’s capitol. In support of area Veterans, also assisted the Veteran’s Freedom Park which is establishing a permanent location to honor local heroes. The Community Nutrition Network is supported so they are able to provide monthly food to low-income families while the Depot Restoration Project is renovating a historical facility into a community center that will host multiple organizations creating an educational hub in an impoverished rural area.
Taking the lead is a natural for Community Action Agencies, and we remain proud that our accomplishments can affect our program participants and the communities in which they live. We strive to share our skills and expertise so that success can be shared with others.
Thank you for your support as we continue to lead the way on poverty issues and community development making it possible for “Helping People, Changing Lives.”
Jill Sutton, Executive Director
Each year, our staff supports individuals and families on their journey toward self-sufficiency as they participate in our multiple programs and services. This support is provided through a variety of approaches that encourages the participant to establish goals and to learn how to achieve them. Although we are limited at times with the multitude of grant regulations, and in some cases limited resources, we strive to do our best to mentor our participants on the pathway to success. Utilizing empowerment tools offers a way of giving them authority over their lives, decisions, and potential outcomes.
Our staff work very hard to provide encouragement that is proactive versus reactive. This help might include supporting a young mother who is learning to care for her infant or we may be assisting a preschool child in self-help skills preparing them for independence in their school career. Through the provision of heat assistance, we are able to stabilize the family’s budget while also keeping them warm at night. This is just a small snapshot of the amazing things our staff can do to empower our participants.
Using empowerment methods does not stop with our participants. Our staff are also encouraged to become well versed in their role with the agency. We empower them to become highly trained professionals that are confident and qualified to perform the duties necessary to accomplish their job by providing professional development opportunities and educational support. While non-profit employment may not be the highest paid field, our returns often come in non-monetary altruistic gains of knowing that we help others to succeed.
The communities we serve also benefit from the result of our efforts through economic development. Through our employment of resident staff, purchasing from local stores and contractors, millions of dollars are spent each year in support of our programs and activities. These resources bring support at the local level investing over $9 million annually.
In closing, as you peruse this year’s Annual Report, please note the many opportunities that allow us to empower our participants. It is a pleasure to share with you the numerous accomplishments of how we have influenced “Helping People, Changing Lives.”
As we reflect on the past year of our agency’s endurance, through the challenges of sequestration reductions, flat grant funding, and program and staff changes as a result, we find ourselves proud of the integrity our organization maintained throughout.
The agency as an entity, the Board and staff alike, remained steadfast on delivering quality programs to the communities and families we serve. Our compassion in helping others never wavered. It was our duty--or you could say our moral and ethical code--to press on despite the challenges.
In return for our hard work, we found a unity among staff in knowing we could get the job done despite governmental obstacles. We found harmony in knowing that we could provide assistance to our customers, and we went home at night knowing it was a job well done. We remained dedicated to our mission of helping people in need. Our Board members remained consistent as they made decisions that kept the agency balanced while also seeking new opportunities.
Working in the human services field provides a completeness that seems unique to our field. It is warm and uplifting when you observe a child learning a new skill or you can provide food to an aging senior. When we find secure housing for the homeless or ensure that a home will be warm, we are confident that our good deeds are appreciated.
We move on to a new year with positive hope that our agency is robust, determined, and will offer a helping hand to those who seek our services. Our integrity will prosper as we develop new and improved opportunities for the people we serve. Please join us on this journey as a partner, volunteer, or supporter of Community Action—help us make a difference in the lives of thousands across our region.
Jill Sutton Executive Director
1574 E Washington Road
PO Box 768
Farwell, MI 48622
2300 E Ludington Drive
Clare, MI 48617
337 Lemke Street
Midland, MI 48642
14330 Northland Drive
Big Rapids, MI 49307
240 E Church Street
Reed City, MI 49677
878 Jefferson Street, Suite 2
Muskegon, MI 49440
907 S State Street Suite 102
Hart, MI 49420