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Taking action against poverty

December 16, 2002|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

There's a framed poster on the wall in Community Action Council Executive Director David G. Jordan's office:

"Stand up for what is right, even if you're standing alone."

Jordan, in the position since April 1, inherited that poster. But it remains prominent.

Community Action Council was founded in 1965, part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's "War of Poverty."

"The war is still raging," Jordan says.

The agency's goal has been to work itself out of a job, Jordan says. "That has not happened."

Poverty exists in America in the 21st century. But its face is different, Jordan says. When Community Action programs came into being nearly 40 years ago, poverty was more rural. Urban poverty existed, but not as visibly as today, Jordan says.

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Homelessness is a local as well as a national problem. The ups and downs of the economy have a direct effect on poverty, Jordan says. Service agencies have seen a reduction in donations - dollars, food and clothing - and CAC is seeing more clients, he says.

Jordan came to CAC from Baltimore County, where he served as deputy director of the Community Assistance Network. Jordan retains his professional membership in the American Society of Landscape Architects, but most of his career has been in community service and planning, working to change a landscape of poverty.

Michael Unruh of Hagerstown, a member of the CAC board directors for five years, chaired the search committee that selected Jordan from about 60 candidates. "Dave has a very good understanding of community action agencies and how they work," he says.

Unruh calls Jordan "down-to-earth," a good communicator with the ability to make decisions and the social skills to make partnerships and networks with other agencies and organizations work.

In less than a year on the job, Jordan has been impressed with a "refreshing" level of cooperation among organizations and agencies in the community. That prevents duplication of services, he says. A recent legislative luncheon brought local officials to the CAC table, something Jordan was not used to seeing in the metropolitan area.

"We work with poor people," Jordan says. "It's not a popular cause."

But he doesn't stand alone. Community Action Council has a staff of 24 and a half - 23 full-time employees, an AmeriCorps volunteer and a part-time maintenance/housing inspector. CAC's board of directors has a "triumvirate" structure, Jordan says. No more than a third of the membership can be public officials, no more than a third can be private citizens or business people and a minimum has to be composed of individuals who are CAC clients or their representatives.

It provides a good mix of perspectives.

He and his staff have done some reorganization, but the Community Action Council's mission remains. CAC "provides encouragement, guidance and assistance" to the people of the community to fight poverty. "The Council's goal is to increase the capacities of individuals and groups to deal with their own problems without the need of further assistance," according to its stated objective.

Community Action Council works at several levels. Services range from crisis intervention to attainment of home ownership.

CAC's Crisis Services section of Crisis Intervention assisted 2,356 households during the 2001-02 program year, according to the CAC annual report.

"It's the first point of contact," Jordan says. People may apply for shelter, rental, help with utility bills, heating, food and prescription assistance.

CAC's Nutrition Services helps to provide food to children, families and homebound individuals. In the Meals-On-Wheels program, 90 volunteers serve 90 clients five days a week.

Volunteer Thelma Ritchie has been delivering Meals-On-Wheels for 17 years. The Hagerstown resident, a retiree, has 18 to 22 clients every Monday. She and a helper - her sister, Shirley Wyand - pick up hot meals and cold-sack lunches at 10:30 a.m. at Always Catering in Williamsport. Ritchie likes to have her last drop made by 12:05 p.m.

"I love doing Meals-On-Wheels," says Ritchie. She says she's gotten to know some wonderful people. "We don't just run in and run out."

The Summer Food Program ensures kids in economically challenged areas one nutritious meal each weekday. Through a joint effort of the City of Hagerstown and the State Department of Education and Nutrition, and administered by CAC, 300 children received daily lunches at six playground sites last summer.

Unruh calls these the "warm and fuzzy" programs. But CAC's goal is self-sufficiency, he says. It's "teach a guy to fish. It's hand ups not handouts."

CAC's help goes beyond crisis intervention. It doesn't stop with a "Band-Aid" on an emergency situation. "Community Action Council does an excellent job for the community," says Paul Swartz, who served on the CAC board during his term as Washington County Commissioner.

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