Local leaders and community members took part in an informational tour, seeing firsthand how local low-income individuals are aided by the region’s community action agency.
East Missouri Action Agency (EMAA) Supporting, Empowering and Leveraging for Families (S.E.L.F.) Program Manager Rob Baker welcomed the group made up of local city, county and state officials as well as other members of the community.
“I know a lot of times you hear about what we do, but it’s better if you can go out and see it in action,” Baker said. “So that’s what we’ll be doing today.”
EMAA Executive Director Keri McCrorey also explained the purpose for the day’s discussion and tours.
“We’re going to showcase some stuff for you today,” McCrorey said. “This is just one county we serve — we serve seven other counties. What you see today is just a small part of what we do.
“Poverty is a very complex issue, as many of you know. It’s not just an issue with a customer that’s low income. It really is a community issue and without help from the community, we will not be able to move people in the direction they need to move to be self-sufficient.”
Before embarking on the tour, EMAA program directors introduced themselves and spoke a little about their particular programs, including Head Start Director Renee Killian, Women’s Wellness Director Lucia Obergoenner, Weatherization Director Dave Scheck, Housing Director Bill Tucker and Community Services Director Cathy Poole.
Baker provided those in attendance with the history of community action agencies, which date back to 1964 with the Economic Activity Act. He said each county in Missouri and almost every county in the nation has a community action agency dedicated to serving the needs of their specific counties.
Each agency has the freedom to build its own program and services to best serve the counties they work with. Additionally, Baker said community action agencies are unique because of the set up of their board of directors.
“Each agency is governed by a tripartite board of directors,” Baker said. “One-third of the board is made up of members from the public sector, one-third from the private sector and one-third is low-income representatives, which are elected every two years in each county by the low-income families we serve.”
Baker said the agency’s vision is to build a community of empowered individuals and families, while the mission is to leverage all community resources to support individuals in reaching their highest potential.
“We realize that our agency doesn’t have all the funding, answers or expertise to help our families,” he said. “So when we work with families, we refer them out into the community so they can get the services they need.”
In 2017, Baker said the agency served 18,000 families in one way or another.
Poole said Community Services is often the first stop for people who contact the agency in search of assistance. The department assesses family needs and refers them to resources within or outside of EMAA. She said Community Services provides energy assistance, tax filing assistance, poverty simulations, leadership training, home-buying assistance and more. In addition, she mentioned that a greenhouse is now operating on EMAA property, with the hope of soon being able to provide families with fresh produce.
Killian said the Head Start program served 627 children last year on the basis of income eligibility. The program provides children aged 3-5 with educational facilities similar to preschool, which they attend six hours a day.
Scheck said the weatherization program performs energy audits on homes, identifies how best to reduce lost energy with insulation or filling gaps and inspects heating systems. Twenty-nine to 50 homes per year receive this work at no cost.
Obergoenner said the Women’s Wellness program is funding by federal Title X dollars, which is the only federal source of family planning and related services.
“I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that we provide abortions,” she said. “Title X, in the way it was established, it can absolutely not be used for abortions. We do not provide or encourage abortions.”
Tucker said the Housing program disperses an average of $10 million to $11 million in assistance each year, to 2,200 families, making it the largest regional housing program in Missouri.
McCrorey spoke briefly about SEED$, or the Southeast Economic Development Corporation, which operates as a subsidiary of EMAA to assist small businesses in the area.
The tour then began, with those attending visiting the agency’s greenhouse, Women’s Wellness Center in Park Hills, Head Start Center in Park Hills, Outreach Office in Desloge, a home in the process of weatherization in Farmington and a SEED$-assisted business in Farmington.
Upon returning to EMAA, the attendees were invited to take part in a discussion about regional and local poverty.
Baker explained the “five pillars of poverty” which are economic and family security, education, food and nutrition, health and housing/energy.
“These are factors that cause people to get into poverty and/or keep them from moving out of poverty,” Baker said.
Baker also discussed statistics from the 2018 Missouri Poverty Report, which is published by the Missourians to End Poverty.
He said St. Francois County has a poverty rate of 16.3 percent, while the national average is slightly lower at 14 percent. Washington County’s rate is 22 percent, Iron County’s is 22.4 percent and Madison County’s is 18 percent.
“We don’t always have the answer,” Baker said in closing. “But collectively, as a community, we can be a voice and hopefully today allowed you the opportunity to see the Community In Action in action, to see that it’s valuable to the community and when you have the opportunity to voice that, to make your voice heard.”
Among those in attendance was Park Hills City Administrator Mark McFarland, who said the tour broadened his idea of what the East Missouri Action Agency is involved with.
“The thing I really found valuable or informational was that I didn’t realize they had their hand in so much,” McFarland said. “Like the apartment complex in Farmington — I didn’t realize that was East Missouri. I knew about the weatherization projects they had going on, but there was a lot I didn’t know about, like the greenhouse. It was kind of an eye-opener.”
For more information about the programs and services provided by the East Missouri Action Agency, visit www.eastmoaa.org.
Jacob Scott is a reporter with the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616 or at email@example.com.