August 6, 2007
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — One of the county’s main poverty-fighting agencies has drafted a priority list for the next five years that includes reaching out to new prospective clients, providing more counseling to help people escape the cycle of poverty, and establishing a mobile food shelf to assist county residents who can’t travel to Middlebury.
Addison County Community Action Group (ACCAG) officials are currently fine tuning a “strategic plan” that will set forth the agency’s service goals for the next five years. Jeanne Montross, executive director of ACCAG, recently shared some of the priorities in the plan, which has an over-arching principle: Helping people to better help themselves.
“What we’re hoping the results will be, is that our interaction with clients will be less crisis-focused,” Montross said. “There will always be a significant number of people who will need assistance, because there simply isn’t enough money for them to meet their basic needs consistently. What we’re hoping, though, is to help people to become more (financially) stable.”
With that in mind, ACCAG officials have mapped out goals that include:
• Creating new housing for at least 15 low-income households with special needs.
Montross acknowledged there is a miniature building boom for housing in Middlebury right now, but she said not much of that stock is attainable for the lowest wage-earners.
“Those are the people we are going to focus on with housing — the extremely low income with very special needs,” Montross said.
While 15 units may seem like a modest goal for five years, Montross noted that affordable housing resources have been drying up.
“The reason (the goal) is that modest is because… subsidies are drying up,” Montross said. “Under the Bush administration (the subsidies) are gone.”
• Providing intensive budget and household management counseling to 30 area low-income households that are currently at risk of losing their rental homes.
• Reaching out to an estimated 250 households in the county that are eligible for ACCAG’s assistance, but which are not currently accessing what the agency has to offer.
“In us being able to assist them with certain items, we also want to teach them employment skills, household skills and financial skills,” Montross said.
• Recruiting volunteers with specific skills to impart to ACCAG clients. The agency hopes to attract helpers who can counsel low-income clients on such matters as balancing the family checkbook, conflict management and how to fix basic household problems — such as when the toilet is running or when a fuse breaks.
“These are things that can make you an asset to a landlord,” Montross said.
• Establishing a fund-raising plan to allow ACCAG to intensify the outreach efforts set forth in its strategic plan. Specifically, the agency hopes to add two new staff, while automating its “client intake system.”
Montross explained that clients currently fill out paperwork that is then added into the agency’s computer database. ACCAG officials want to improve their database to a point where staff can instantaneously update clients’ information on a computer while they are sitting in the office.
“It will save a lot of time,” Montross said. “ACCAG has come out of a period of crisis… and we’ve gotten to be a nice, stable organization. Now it’s time to look at what we are doing as an organization to grow, to become more efficient and to serve the community better.”
ACCAG currently has six full-time workers and seven part-timers. One of the proposed new full-timers would work in the agency’s “Retroworks” reuse facility, while the other would be assigned to client services.
• Transforming an agency van into a “mobile food shelf” that would be able to take nourishment to homebound people who aren’t able to travel to ACCAG’s headquarters on Boardman Street in Middlebury.
“We know there are people on the outskirts of town who can’t get here,” Montross said.
Only a year ago, ACCAG’s food shelf was brimming with goods from the inventory of two area discount food stores that went out of business. But ACCAG’s shelves are again getting bare.
“We gave away a lot of that food to other food shelves, because it was getting close to its ‘sell-by’ date,” Montross explained. “It seemed silly to keep it here, so we called up other food shelves… That worked out really well, and felt really nice to do.”
Anyone able to donate food — such as canned soup, healthy snacks, peanut butter, pastas and cereal — should call ACCAG at 388-3608.
Montross hopes ACCAG will make new strides with its five-year plan.
“We want to increase our visibility and our resource base in the county,” Montross said. “How we can make this organization as stable as possible going into the future so we can really help the community. We don’t see those needs going away.”