Written by Jessica R. Dreistadt, Planner for Lehigh Valley Community Land Trust, Rising Tide Community Loan Fund, West Ward Neighborhood Partnership, and Renew Lehigh Valley.
This year, we are commemorating Community Action’s 50th anniversary. As I mentioned in last week’s post, the organization was formed in 1965 to “eliminate the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty.” Despite our best efforts, millions of carefully invested dollars, and an iron will, poverty persists in the Lehigh Valley.
Those of us who have a strong social conscience are appalled. How is it possible that, 50 years later, our community still has a plethora of poverty in the midst of plenty?
We could debate, or better yet have constructive dialogue, about the causes of poverty for hours. Maybe even weeks, probably years. In my view, poverty is a highly complex problem with multiple, interconnected causes. We can’t use just one strategy to eliminate poverty, or even to minimize its impact. We need to bring together all of our best ideas and intervene at multiple levels, from many directions, to have an impact.
This is why Community Action’s approach to eliminating poverty is comprehensive. It isn’t enough to provide food and shelter to people experiencing poverty, as this does nothing to create opportunities which they can then choose to pursue. Revitalizing our cities and helping small businesses launch is also insufficient as this does not resolve our community’s immediate needs. We need to do it all, and we need to do it well — with compassion, love, hope, and what our executive director often refers to as “missionary zeal.”
Last Wednesday, about 250 employees, volunteers, donors, partners, and other friends gathered at the Renaissance Hotel in Allentown for an extra special annual meeting to commemorate this milestone. Guests met two former program beneficiaries who are now a successful employee and contractor with the agency. Social justice-themed music from each decade of our organization’s existence was performed by Steve Brosky and Jimmy Supra and Sarah Ayers. A video featuring 15 of our former board presidents was debuted. Our hearts were warmed by the generous donation made to Second Harvest Food Bank by Mike Gausling in honor of his recently departed and beloved wife, Sharon. As Alan Jennings said at the meeting, “she honored us by being among us.”
As is the tradition, the agency also shared its many accomplishments from the 2014-15 fiscal year. These included:
- Acquiring a 65,000 warehouse for Second Harvest Food Bank, which distributed 7.7 million pounds of food this year;
- Launching Upside Allentown and Southside Vision 20/20, six-year neighborhood revitalization efforts sponsored by National Penn, PPL Corporation, Just Born, Inc., Alvin H. Butz Corporation, City Center Investment Corporation, Susquehanna Bank, TD Bank, and Wells Fargo;
- Launching the Water Fountain Project and organizing a discussion forum with elected officials which was broadcast throughout the commonwealth;
- Advocating for an increase in the state minimum wage which has not been passed in so long (nearly 10 years) that it is currently lower than the federal minimum wage of $7.25;
- Facilitating four Start Your Business classes in Allentown and Bethlehem, helping 97 entrepreneurs conceptualize and develop a viable business concept;
- Helping 134 families purchase a home and saved 112 households from foreclosure;
- Launching a housing rehabilitation program in Northampton County;
- Expanding our small business lending to Carbon, Monroe, and Upper Bucks Counties;
- Weatherizing 1395 homes and repairing/replacing 227 heating systems;
- Distributing more than 4,500 pounds of fresh vegetables to residents of the West Ward of Easton;
- Helping 9,394 PPL customers reduce their arrearages and maintain service; and
- Providing job training and counseling to 201 TANF recipients.
You can read more about Community Action’s activities over the past year in our 2015 Community Action Annual Report.
As you can see, fighting poverty really is a complex, ongoing process. These are just a few of the things we, the staff of Community Action, have somehow managed to accomplish despite tremendous odds against the kind of work that we do. But we are only able to do this and to make a difference because of the support and involvement (not to mention optimism, tenacity, and resourcefulness) of our donors, volunteers, partners, and friends. We simply can’t do it without you.
This blog post is part of a three-part series, Community Action: Our Past, Present, and Future. The next and final installment will be posted on Friday October 16.