Only 10 organizations across the country have been chosen to participate in a pilot program focused on making a positive effect in the community and the Highland County Community Action Organization, Inc. is one of them.
According to information released by HCCAO, the Rural Integration Models for Parents and Children to Thrive (Rural IMPACT) demonstration program is a cross-agency effort to combat poverty and improve upward mobility in rural and tribal communities.
“We are excited to have been selected as one of only 10 organizations across the country to participate in this demonstration opportunity,” said the release, which was prepared by HCCAO Executive Director Julia Wise and Emergency Services Director Christi Hauke.
According to the press release, the role of Rural IMPACT is to “assist communities in adopting a two-generation approach to addressing the needs of both vulnerable children and their parents, with the goal of increasing parents’ employment and education and improving the health and well-being of their children and families.”
There are various partnerships/advisory groups within the county in which HCCAO proactively participates; some focus on early childhood education, substance abuse issues, housing, community corrections, health services, youth advisory and workforce to name a few. Each has its own purpose and all members are committed to working to address their areas. Different representatives of individual organizations often serve on several of the partnerships/advisory groups. Each does an excellent job with a committed group of individuals. Like many entities, these committees operate in “silos,” driven by individual funding and mission priorities.
Putting one leader from each agency around a table with a defined goal to develop a collaborative community system will focus these individual organizations and their efforts to work in unison in adopting a two-generation approach to programs, policies, and systems to better meet the needs of low-income rural families. The end result would be that the goals of the individual groups are met, as well as redefining how families are served in a meaningful and effective way, the release said.
The program is a training and technical assistance opportunity with no local funding at this time. It involves: a six-month planning period with targeted technical assistance (TA) to help communities link programs and services; at least six months of additional TA to begin the implementation period, during which sites will work to address system, policy and program changes targeting alleviation of child poverty; partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) to develop projects to place AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers, helping local partners develop new or enhance existing antipoverty programming, map community assets, and help build local community capacity; participation in a peer learning network to facilitate the sharing of best practices among sites facing similar opportunities and challenges; and support from a federal inter-agency team to identify and address barriers to cross-programmatic work.
HCCAO will serve as the lead agency for the training and technical assistance partnership. HCCAO is often called the “go to” organization in the county as it offers a variety of programs including early childhood education, health services, Ohio Means Jobs-Highland County, emergency assistance, housing programs including rental, rehabilitation and energy conservation, foreclosure and budget counseling, and nutrition programs for children and seniors.
HCCAO is a nonprofit organization that has been serving the county for 50 years. HCCAO strives to operate a “no silo’s” approach within the organization. With limited resources and the opportunity for case management, all agency staff work to make a concerted effort toward internal referrals in order to assure that every family has the opportunity to access the resources offered and move toward self-sufficiency.
Poverty exists throughout the county, but the highest concentrations are in Greenfield and the Rocky Fork and Paint Creek Lake regions, according to the release.
The press release states that the organization is frequently able to meet the individual and family’s emergency needs, but that addressing the family approach has been difficult, especially when every funding source has different income guidelines, timeframes, and application packages.
According to the press release, an example of this is that a child receiving nutritional assistance may not be eligible for Head Start services, and the household is often required to apply separately for housing rehabilitation.
In Highland County the number of children living in poverty increased by 10 percent from 2000 to 2013. The numbers stood at 11.2 percent in 2000 and at 21.2 percent in 2013. The number of children living in poverty between the ages of 0-4 stood at 39 percent in 2013. That was twice as high as the average for Ohio and three times greater than the country. The poverty rate for ages 5 to 17 stood at 28 percent. That exceeds both the state and national rates. Over 50 percent of the families living in poverty are considered female head of household families. Eighteen percent of the total population receives SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs), previously referred to as food stamps, assistance. Three school districts within the county have over 57 percent of students eligible for free or reduced lunches. These families often have little choice as a family of three is considered in poverty at the annual income level of $20,090.
In 2008, Highland County was ranked in the top 10 for highest foreclosure rates, the release said. While this rate has dramatically decreased in recent years, the fact is there are many vacant and dilapidated housing units in the county. There are multiple families living under the same roof. Many families impacted by unemployment still struggle with the decision to make house payments or keep food on the table, the release said.
As the application was being developed, numerous community organizations, including public officials, school districts and other organizations, agreed to participate if funding was awarded, according to the press release.
“The program will take a lot of commitment and work from many individuals, organizations, and our community,” the press release said. “However, for every family the resultant work moves forward, our community becomes that much stronger.”
HCCAO is located in Hillsboro’s North High Business Center at 1487 N. High St, Ste. 500. Contact it by calling 937-393-3458.
Submitted by Highland County Community Action, Inc. Executive Director Julia Wise