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Community Action helps over 30,000 of our neighbors each year, many of them like Pattie.
Rosa has benefited from Community Action programs in countless ways that have made the 'American Dream' of owning a home, getting a decent education, and pursuing opportunity a reality. Her journey shows how our programs form a safety net of resources and support so people can build the life they want.
When Rosa's teenage son Rafael was younger, WIC and Fuel Assistance helped her family stay warm and well fed. Free child care from Head Start helped her complete a bachelor's degree in human services. And the guidance on parenting she received through Head Start helped her raise a healthy child. In 2008 Rosa joined our CommonCents matched saving program to gain money management skills and save for her first home. She was tired of renting, and "they can always kick you out." With support from Community Action staff, Rosa weathered the ups and downs of securing her home. Even when she lost her job and her mortgage was denied, CommonCents staff helped her get back on track, find her dream home, and secure an even better mortgage. "They go the extra mile, they believe in you," Rosa says now, several years later.
Today, Rosa has built up a rainy day fund, and is even able to save enough money to visit her family in Argentina. When she talks about the impact of our programs, she mentions 14-year-old Rafael- the Head Start graduate- who has learned financial skills from her example. In the end, Rosa says, the most valuable lessons she has learned from Community Action is that "you can believe in people."
Rosa now works at the Center for New Americans, where she provides immigrants and refugees with the same support, resources, and advocacy she once received. Her career and the values she brings to it grew out of her experience with Community Action. She says, "I do believe in people as well. As you encourage them to be more self-sufficient or independent, eventually they will find their own way to be successful in a way or another, and if not, I will always be here for them."
"Before my daughter entered Head Start, I assumed it was just a typical pre-school classroom where I left her and she did what kids do in pre-school. I had no idea Head Start included everyone in the family. As a young mom trying to juggle the challenges of being a studetn and being a mom, I really flourished with the extra support the program provided."
In fact, Teresa discovered an untapped passion for early childhood education. "Before I had Jacoya, I didn't really have much experience with children, so I wanted to learn more about child development in the best interest of my daughter," Teresa recalls. She began pursuing a degree in early childhood education, and she joined the Parent-Child Development Center team as a teacher assistant. Now, 17 years later, Teresa has completed her degree and risen through the ranks to become the supervisor of our entire G Street site in Turners Falls, which has two classrooms.
Teresa speaks of gratitude and of giving back. "I'm extremely thankful for the opportunities that Head Start has given my family. Now that I'm a Head Start site supervisor, I'm happy to have the opportunity to encourage other parents to make a positive change."
"I love being part of a team that helps children and families rise above their adversities. The work we're doing provides our students with a foundation for who they may become in the future. We want to fill our community with successful, kind, independent individuals, and it starts now."
"As someone who's been served by Community Action, I feel like my role on the Board is to bring the perspective that what we do is not just important in theory," says 22-year-old Tyanna Normandin, who was elected as a Community Representative to our Board of Directors in 2012. "It's all about the faces and the feelings of real people living in our community."
Tyanna has been involved with Community Action since she was 18 and living in transitional housing run by DIAL/SELF Teen and Community Services. "I had been homeless, in a very unsafe situation, and I had no idea how to get anything I needed," Tyanna recalls. Her caseworker referred her to Community Action Youth Programs, and she joined the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) youth employment readiness program. Both organizations worked with Tyanna as she got her life together step by step- learning how to set goals for herslf, enrolling as a student at Greenfield Community College, and succeeding in her first employment internship.
The relationships Tyanna built with Youth Programs staff made a huge difference in her life. "It's not just about the service or benefits- like the winter coat they got me when I didn't have warm clothing to wear to my internship, or the Fuel Assistance they helped me apply for- but the emotional support...I never had anybody that cared that I was struggling, and they not only cared, they were willing to help me figure out what to do about it."
Out of her own experience, Tyanna has forged an enduring commitment to helping others, and she has built up an impressive resume of service. Tyanna has been a peer leader for Youth Programs, staffed the Brick House teen drop-in center, served on the Executive Board of the Gill-Montague Community School Partnership, and helped coordinate anti-substance abuse campaigns within Youth Programs...just to name a few! Tyanna also sees herself as an advocate. If she finds someone stereotyping or mistreating others, Tyanna says, "I try to be a strong friend. I don't stay silent, I stand up, and I encourage others to stand up for themselves. It's so important to me that people feel safe and comfortable and allowed to speak."
Tyanna values the 'big picture' viewpoint she is exposed to as a member of the Community Action Board. "I knew about the programs. I just never know how much goes into it and just how many people are actually served!" She says this gives her a different perspective on impending government cuts to social service programs; "It's the realization that it's not just that I might be impacted, but that a lot of people could be impacted. This is powerful. This is something to fight for!"
Tyanna helps Community Action maintain a strong connection within our governing body to those we serve. And staying true to our mission at all levels in the organization helps us build a community of true caring.
In this economy, saving up to buy a home, go back to school, or start a small business isn’t easy. Through our CommonCents program, our financial education staff work tirelessly to help each participant open the door to financial success. So when we learned that Greenfield residents Bethany, 14, and Ricia, 17, dreamed of the day when they could close their doors, we were a bit surprised.
Before Bethany and Ricia’s mother, Pattie (pictured to the right), completed our CommonCents program, she and her two daughters lived in tight quarters. “Both Bethany and Ricia had walk-through rooms, and the curtain dividers didn’t allow for much privacy,” Pattie explained. Through her hard-earned savings, coupled with CommonCents financial education classes and a 3-to-1 savings match from us, Pattie became a first-time homeowner. With plans to renovate her own bedroom in the near future, Pattie currently sleeps in the living room so that both girls can enjoy their very own, newly-decorated bedrooms! “The first thing I did when we moved in was go up to my room and close my door—I was just so excited to have one!” said Ricia. We’re thrilled that Bethany and Ricia now have the opportunity to close their doors while Pattie continues work with our CommonCents staff to open new ones for her entire family.
Nancy Parsons of Belchertown loved to sit at her kitchen table and look out the window. But it was too cold to sit there.
Nancy is a senior citizen living on a fixed income. Ever since her husband died six years ago, it's been getting more difficult each year to make ends meet. "I live in an older mobile home," said Nancy. "It was drafty, and the floors were very cold. The Weatherization program found and sealed where the drafts were coming from, insulated underneath my home, and added insulation around my front bay window."
Next, we dealt with Nancy's heating system. "Last winter, I had trouble with my furnace just shutting off and not restarting," she said. "One time my pipes froze because of it. Community Action was able to replace it with a furnace that is not only reliable, but burns less oil. What a relief to not have to worry!"
Nancy still has trouble paying her bills. So we also helped reduce Nancy's costs by enrolling her in our Fuel Assistance program.
Nancy appreciated Community Action's emphasis on good customer service. "The workers were just fabulous," said Nancy. "They were very friendly and knowledgeable, and took the time to explain what they were doing and why."
We're pleased to be able to help people like Nancy Parsons stay safe and warm in their own homes. And thanks to increased resources through stimulus funding, we are able to weatherize even more homes in Hampshire and Franklin Counties, and do even more work in each home than in 2009. Now many other people like Nancy can have the simple joy of looking out their window while feeling cozy and warm.