One of the departments under the nearly 50-year-old umbrella of Highland County Community Action Organization, Inc. (HCCAO) is emergency services, which has been a part of the agency for its duration, according to director Christi Hauke.
HCCAO is a private non-profit organization, not a county, state, or federal entity. “Helping People. Changing Lives.” are the words people are met with as they enter through the doors to the lobby area of the agency at the North High Business Center.
Hauke, who has been with the agency for more than a decade, said that the department’s “primary function” is crisis intervention.
That is accomplished through the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) winter and summer crisis programs, and an emergency pantry, among other programs.
The goal, Hauke said, during the colder months is to make sure that a household in need of heat, has heat. She said at the same time the agency is assisting a household with continuing heat or getting heating services started again after a turn-off, the household and its members are also “plugged into” other available services offered by the agency.
The same goes for the summer crisis program, which helps those with a documented medical condition that requires electricity and/or air conditioning with assistance to help ensure that those utilities remain available.
She said the long-term goals are always to help people “gain the skills and tools needed to move out of poverty.”
Another way those goals are accomplished is through the financial capabilities program.
That program is something Hauke said has produced success stories and is becoming “more full scope.”
The emergency pantry provides what Hauke called a “stop gap” by supplying three meals for three days for all members of a household.
She said the agency typically assists about 140 households per month with the emergency pantry.
But it is more than just giving a household three days’ worth of food, she said, adding that the staff interacts with those seeking the emergency assistance with the objective of trying to discover the “root cause” of why the assistance is needed.
The mostly “shelf-stable” foods available in the pantry are furnished primarily through donations, food drives, and the FreeStore Food Bank.
Emergency services also has a hand in the Community Christmas Program, where families in need are provided for over the holiday.
This year, Hauke said, will be a Christmas in July, with dollar days all month at local barber shops and salons. Hauke said any patrons can donate $1 to go to the Christmas program.
Another way funds are being raised for the holiday program is through the raffle of a charcoal grill with accessories and a large picnic table. Tickets are available at Community Action.
All of the money raised through the dollar days and the raffle will be used for the Christmas program, Hauke said.
The emergency services department also provides transportation for those over 60. The agency helps the seniors get to medical appointments, to Greenfield for a prepared meal with other seniors, and sometimes to the grocery store.
Through Hauke’s department, individuals can also get their taxes done free of charge, provided they meet certain guidelines. The agency is able to offer this service through the Ohio Benefit Bank, she said.
HCCAO staff are “not tax professionals,” Hauke said, adding that software through the Ohio Benefit Bank is used in the tax preparation for those who qualify.
And while there are income guidelines, which change every year, Hauke said, “It is pretty open who we can help.”
The software allows HCCAO to go back up to three years, she said.
The agency provides case-management services for individuals through Ohio Works First. She said it helps “to resolve any other barriers out there,” and to find long-term solutions.
In 2014, emergency services assisted about 3,200 households in the county, Hauke said.
“Our goal is to stabilize those crises at all times” and move a household toward defeating poverty in the long term, she said.
Through home energy assistance, financial counseling, emergency food, or any of the other programs through HCCAO, Hauke said that “if a person has a need,” the agency will find a program, or programs, that will help them, even if it is outside the Community Action agency.
A celebration is being planned for October or November when HCCAO turns 50. More information will be available as the time draws closer.
For more information about the agency, call 937-393-3458. Information is also available on the agency’s website at hccao.org. HCCAO is located in the North High Business Center at 1487 N. High St., Ste. 500.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.