THE EDITED VERSION APPEARED IN THE GOGEBIC COUNTY PROGRESS EDITION ON FEBRUARY 8, 2012
GOGEBIC-ONTONAGON COMMUNITY ACTION AGENCY
IRONWOOD DAILY GLOBE PROGRESS EDITION ARTICLE
Gogebic-Ontonagon Community Action Agency
Executive Director Carolynne Carlson
GOCAA CAPITALIZES ON OPPORTUNITIES TO PROVIDE A STRONG SAFETY NET FOR OUR COMMUNITIES
Community Action in 2011 was extremely busy. Simultaneously in 2011, community action agencies dealt with elements of a nation-wide endeavor to eliminate domestic programs that are often referred to as “waste in government spending.”
Community Action is a domestic program. Our mission is to alleviate the causes and conditions of poverty. How do you determine what is waste? If you personally don’t need it, you might think it’s a waste. But, if you did need it or a family member needs it and lacked substantial income, would that make a difference as to whether or not it would be a waste?
Is it wasteful to insulate a home to be more energy efficient? Is it wasteful to have a functional furnace or energy efficient doors and windows? Is it wasteful to help keep a family warm when they lack the funds to pay for oil or propane? Is it wasteful to update a substandard home to fix a leaking roof or crumbling foundation or drilling a well or fixing a septic system? Is it wasteful to help a young family stabilize their life by helping them just get into a house. Is it wasteful to help young low income families with small children be ready to meet the mainstream of education when they reach kindergarten age? Is it wasteful to help the elderly stay in their own homes through the provision of in-home services? The challenges don’t stop with this, but where do you start and where do we want to go with this … cutting waste in government spending? Get a job is a common retort. Many households using services have people who are employed yet their income level qualifies them for help.
Where do you draw the line as to which group capitalizes on welfare – low-income households using tax supported services or businesses that pay less than a liveable wage where their employees must depend on outside help or both. Public tax supported programs may directly help a family in need, but indirectly how does it help the community?
Gogebic and Ontonagon counties population-wise are very small, a total of less than 25,000 for two counties. The Community Action budget for 2011 was over $4.9 million. Seventy-five percent was spent locally. The other 25% was spent regionally using vendors whose product like food vendors is distributed regionally to local businesses and organizations that depend on them. Did the greater need for these products locally help keep the costs down for our for-profit businesses who use them as well? Just a question. Expenditures spent locally ranged from your local hardware store, contractors, fuel vendors, super markets or professional organization, and landlords, to local clinics and hospitals being guaranteed payments from insurance benefits to qualifying community action employees. Restaurants benefited from the senior meal voucher program; gas and maintenance for all the vehicles. 2011 was a year when this economically depressed area would have seen the end of even more local businesses had it not been for the state and federal funds awarded to local domestic programs which receive tax generated funds to support their services.
Domestic programs like GOCAA are audited annually. Here auditors from Joki, Makela, Pollack and Ahonen recently spent time with Executive Director Carolynne Carlson reviewing expenditures and preparing the agency’s 2011 Audit.
This pie chart reflects the four main categories of the agency’s budget.
Click On This Link For Pie Chart
During 2011 GOCAA employed 113 employees throughout Gogebic and Ontonagon Counties. Payroll was over $1.6 million. All employees are local residents most of whom spend their earnings locally.
Additionally, GOCAA prepared 56 1099s to local vendors, contractors, consultants, businesses and organizations. Some of these businesses earned tens of thousands of dollars for services and/or products they rendered to Community Action customers.
Community Development Office – A Base to Launch New Businesses and Expanded Employment Opportunities
Community Development Coordinator Velda Sclafani
2011 was a year of ongoing partnership building, researching opportunities, capitalizing on local skills and strengths and developing ideas for potential economic growth in our two rural counties.
What’s in store in 2012 for Community Development?
What’s in store in 2012 for Community Development?
January 10, 2012 marked the second year of the GOCAA Community Development Office. With its Coordinator Velda Sclafani at the helm, there has been a resurgence of a can-do attitude that motivates people to share their skills, expertise, advice, time and money. Partnership building is essential to the success of business creation. Sclafani has focused on bringing a wide-range of local talent together to achieve this long range result.
Our goal remains the same: to create jobs. Present activities include continuing to create partnerships throughout Gogebic/Ontonagon counties for economic growth; a committee to recruit people from outside the area to retire early and move here with our low cost of living; MEDC grant guideline training for large businesses and the purchase of vacant or historical buildings; working on other grant resources for funding including the Community Action CSBG Act 2012 funding for Economic Development and Rural Communities Facilities programs; working with Northern initiatives to keep the “Wilds of Michigan” brand going in the two counties; marketing the two counties to bring awareness about the area for living and vacationing; and assisting all municipalities with any support they request. Other plans for 2012 include a Job Fair for Watersmeet, and social media workshop for small businesses.
OUTREACH ARE GOCAA’s GATEKEEPERS: FIRST STOP ON THE
PATH TO SELF SUFFICIENCY
Three of four outreach staff maintain busy schedules helping our customers access agency services and programs and running various programs throughout the year. Left to right are Lorraine Perotti who also serves as the monthly commodity coordinator; Pat Kangas who also doubles as our reporting coordinator and Deb McDonnel whose other cap includes coordination of the Helmi’s Helpers Program that helps seniors with housekeeping, snow shoveling and lawn work. Missing from the picture is Dodie Rautiola who serves Ontonagon County and
Heather Jacobson, GOCAA’s tax preparer.
Most people who access help from Community Action first meet with the agency’s gatekeepers: our Outreach staff. Four outreach staff between Gogebic and Ontonagon counties are prepared to work with you to identify your needs and qualify you for services. Outreach staff have been trained in a myriad of programs that can provide links to solving your problems. Often times it is indirect … the issue you came in for we may not be able to solve, but we may be able to offer you help that improves your conditions and helps free up your own resources to apply to the problem.
Linkage Programs Help Bridge the Gaps
Outreach staff help households fill out applications for the agency’s more comprehensive programs like Housing and Weatherization but some of the agency’s emergency or motivational programs are serviced directly by Outreach staff which make accessibility more timely. The agency’s tax credit assistance program, emergency energy programs that help with subsidies like deliverable fuel payments or other energy related payments to gas and electric vendors, Social Security Programs like MMAP and MIPPI, Commodity Supplemental Food and the Emergency Food Assistance Program are all there to help with costs associated with necessities that low income people often have to make a choice about. By assuring that low income households get their tax credits to help pay for things like property taxes, or the low-income subsidy for the Medicare Part D Program and the Medicare Savings Programs, the money or savings generated from these programs helps free up their funds for other expenses. Likewise the agency’s monthly and quarterly commodity programs also help well over a thousand households stretch their food budgets when they pick up their commodities, an individual package value which ranges between $30-$40 per household.
LOW-INCOME FAMILIES BENEFIT FROM FEDERAL AND STATE TAX CREDITS
Each year GOCAA employs one position to help low-income households do their federal and state taxes along with federal and state tax credits. These credits can either reduce taxable income and lower taxes or provide a refund even if no tax is owed. These credits provide significant financial resources to low-income families. Among the federal tax credits are the Earned Income Credit, Dependent Child Care Credit and the Child Tax Credit among others including the home heating and property tax credit. The Earned Income credit supplements the earned income of lower income individuals and families. The federal credit can be a maximum of $3,050 for a single worker raising 1 child up to $5,666 for a married worker raising 3 or more children. Individual workers without children can qualify for a smaller amount. The credit phases out as income increases.
GOCAA provides this service to low-income households free of charge. All taxes are e-filed and the turn-around time to receive your tax returns or tax credit checks is 8-15 days.
HEAD START ENHANCES LIVES THROUGH EDUCATION AND COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS
Children are our future. The care and investment a community makes in the early childhood developmental years helps to build each child’s individual foundation.
All Head Start programs undergo a federal on-site review every three years. The team conducts interviews with staff, parents, governing body, and policy council members. The focus is on the delivery of services as well as management systems, accountability and fiscal integrity.
A federal monitoring team last reviewed the GOCAA Head Start program on March 14, 2010 through March 19, 2010. It was determined that our program was in compliance with all applicable federal Head Start Performance Standards, laws, regulations and policy requirements.
The on-site reviewers stated our “collaborations in an economically depressed rural community were a strength. The program operations were conducted through a relationship-based culture with two local school districts, health care providers, and community organizations.”
100% Children were up-to-date per Michigan’s Early & Periodic Screening & Developmental Testing schedule for well child care
99% Children were up-to-date on all immunizations appropriate for their age
99% Enrollees completed a professional dental exam during enrollment year
30% Enrolled children were eligible to receive special education and related services
All of our Head Start centers are licensed by Michigan Bureau of Children and Adult Licensing.
Performance and Growth
Overall, children are progressing well toward meeting development and learning objectives. Information on children’s progress is obtained from multiple sources, including teacher observations, analysis of children’s work samples and performance, parent reports or direct assessment of children. Program improvements are initiated by adjusting classroom instruction utilizing data and through individualized staff development opportunities.
Screening and Assessment
Devereaux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA) is completed on every Head Start child. This enables us to accurately identify social and emotional issues and provide the necessary services and referrals as needed. Within 45 days of enrollment, all children participate in a developmental screening; the standardized screening tool, Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning, fourth edition (DIAL-4) is used.
The Creative Curriculum is used as our foundation to ensure school readiness. Our program is designed to meet the individual needs for developing self-confidence, feelings of self worth, curiosity and self-discipline, and thus will enhance the child’s intellectual and physical development.
Our program supports successful transitions for families. Home visitors and teachers offer a variety of activities and implement a collaborative relationship with each other, elementary schools, childcare programs, and others to ensure smooth transitions.
Enrollment – Average Monthly Enrollment - 132
GOCAA Head Start Program served a total of:
6 Pregnant Mothers
60 were Single Parent Families
31 Fathers/Father Figures participated in Head Start activities with their child
GOCAA Head Start organized activities to encourage father involvement.
61% Enrolled Families requested follow up services in the areas of Housing (41%) Job Training (18%);
Emergency/Crisis Intervention (18%), Mental Health Services(18%)
159 Total Volunteers during Program Year
125 were Current/Former Head Start Parents
GOCAA Head Start collaborated with community agencies such as local libraries, public schools, Michigan State University Extension, health departments, etc. to provide various events for local families. Some examples include: “Picturing America,” Early Childhood Expo Fall Frolic, and Community Family Fun Nights.
HOUSING REHABILITATION AND HOMEBUYERS PROGRAMS ARE LONG TERM INVESTMENTS FOR BOTH COMMUNITY AND HOUSEHOLDS
Nothing helps stabilize a community more that home ownership just as it also helps to stabilize families. The investment in home ownership gives families a sense of belonging and responsibility as a vested citizen of a community. Oftentimes former transient attitudes are traded for a reason to read the paper, attend meetings, help your neighbor and/or become involved in what’s going on around you. This is not to say that people who rent don’t do these things, but it is to say that home ownership gives it an entirely new purpose. Unfortunately the goal of home ownership is often unreachable for many households. Down payments, closing costs, credit scores, etc. all play a significant role as to whether or not you will be able to become a home owner.
The Agency’s homebuyer program in Ironwood has been able to make home ownership a reality for citizens who have long only dreamed about the day. Our help with down payment and closing costs opens the door to something that seemed impossible. Not only does it accomplish that, but because there is also a housing rehabilitation component within this program, we can help the new homeowner address some of the problems that need correction to bring the house up to code and in many cases put a new face on it.
For more than 20 years the agency has joined other housing rehabilitation programs in both Gogebic and Ontonagon counties in adding housing rehabilitation to its repertoire in Gogebic County. WUPPDR does the same thing in Ontonagon County and the City of Ironwood does it in Ironwood. These programs are designed to address housing quality standard violations of eligible households. We have put in wells, septic tanks, roofs, furnaces, windows, doors, built or rebuilt bathrooms, kitchens, entrance ways, etc. all to help the homeowner and the family to have a comfortable and energy efficient home in which to raise a family and continue to enjoy it as we grow old.
Housing programs are very complex and require a great deal of coordination and cooperation between homeowners, contractors, inspectors, and the organization helping to make it happen.
GOCAA WEATHERIZATION TOPS THE CHARTS BETWEEN 2009-2012 IN HOME PROJECTS FOR AREA RESIDENTS
Federal Stimulus funds provided an unprecedented opportunity throughout the nation to help households become more energy efficient. During the three year period locally this meant that 433 homes were weatherized throughout Gogebic and Ontonagon counties. April 1, 2012 marks the end of the DOE 3 year stimulus programs which began on April 1, 2009. During this period GOCAA hired and trained 6 new full time positions. Important to the community are the increased sales and additional sales staff it created for suppliers of weatherization materials. Contractors became involved with installation of 230 furnaces, 123 water heaters and 302 refrigerators. Agency crews installed thousands of square feet of insulation and hundreds of doors and windows. Inspections and testing qualified these households for help and made a huge difference in the quality of the environment these households were living in.
Testimonials in this regard speak volumes –
Thanks to everyone in weatherization for a GREAT JOB! You have stopped all drafts that we had. We no longer have the ice build up thanks to the insulation that was installed. Our home is nice and cozy now. You all did a wonderful job. C.P.
Thanks so much to everyone who helped to get my house weatherized this past year. You don’t know how much this help meant to me. I am so thankful to everyone at your agency. I can tell how much of a difference it has made now that winter is finally here. I appreciate how much you all did. Everyone was so great and the workers were so quick and cleaned up so nicely. Thanks, Again! S.P.
GOCAA Weatherization front row from left: Director Glen Chlebowski, Crewman Allen McLeod,
and Secretary/Admin Asst. Cheryl Leskoviansky
Back Row: Crewmen Josh LaMaide, Ryan Pusakulich and Jerry Gallo, Inspector Pete Petranek,
Crewman Dennis Kontny, Inspector Dale Wicklund and Foreman/Supervisor Paul Janczak
SENIOR PROGRAMS GET NEW DIRECTOR
Christine Trolla has
been named Senior Programs Coordinator taking the reigns from former Director Irene Sorelle who recently stepped down after 15 years to pursue semi- retirement while still helping out our most vulnerable elderly as a home delivered meals driver in the Ewen area.
MILL STREET GARDEN THRIVES
With GOCAA’s move to the building in Bessemer, a new dining room opened in April 2009 and we called it Mill Street Garden. Senior dining is at its best Monday-Thursday 11 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Reservations are not needed and what’s more our customers now have options off the Deli Menu if they so choose. Head Cook John Rund and his staff work hard to put together meals that keep our seniors healthy and happy. In this picture Christmas Dinner 2011 was enjoyed by over 150 seniors and their families. Attendance most often fills the dining room.
OUR SENIORS ARE TREASURED GEMS
When organizations get involved in discussions concerning what about this area would attract outsiders to move here, we always talk about things this area has to offer like fresh air, abundant natural resources, etc. What is seldom heard and quite possibly the best kept secret is how we treat our senior citizens. The best way to describe it is the caption at the top: “Our Seniors are Treasured Gems.” Evidence of this is everywhere you look and for Community Action seniors are a main focus. So many of our seniors struggle on lower, fixed incomes and services are designed to support their needs to help them stay independent and in their homes as long as possible. The generosity of the electorate in both Gogebic and Ontonagon counties with millage support has helped us expand our repertoire of services that can include seniors of all socio-economic levels.
Community Action concentrates on in-home paraprofessional services – those non-medical kinds of things that are essential to safe, comfortable independent living. Personal Care, Homemaking, Respite Care, Annual Spring and/or Fall Cleaning, Snow Shoveling, Mowing and Yard Work,
Small Repairs are all needs seniors have, especially when family support is not available which is so true for so many who have seen their families leave the area for work. Our commitment to seniors extends to doing their tax credits, helping them select a Medicare Part D Provider, Advocacy in areas that require more complicated intervention, escorting them to a medical appointment outside the area, help unexpected emergencies, etc. Our Home Delivered Meals Program offers nutritionally balanced meals to our most vulnerable seniors still at home and gives some relief to care givers, and, of course, our the agency has strived to continue to improve our congregate meals for all seniors. Our Mill Street Garden has offered seniors a new kind of senior dining experience insuring a nutritionally balanced meal at an affordable price in surroundings that are convenient and welcoming. Seniors are our treasured gems…it shows at Community Action and it shows throughout both counties with the countless organizations who serve this population.
PARTNERSHIPS AND NETWORKING ARE KEY
It would be impossible to accomplish everything this agency does without the good solid partnerships and networking that the various programs within the agency keep with key businesses and organizations on a local, state and federal level. The key to thriving in a small community with limited resources is to build relationships that work together for their common goals.
The Gogebic-Ontonagon Community Action’s main office in Gogebic County is at 100 S. Mill Street in Bessemer (667-0283) in Ontonagon at 429 River Street in Ontonagon (884-2106) and in Ewen in the Masonic Lodge Building on M-28 (988-3751). For more information about the agency and its programs please feel free to contact us at any one of these sites.