Community Action rebrands itself

Feb 20, 2018

As reported by Steve Pfarrer, Greenfield Recorder, February 19, 2018:

With a new year — and new challenges — ahead, the Pioneer Valley’s premier anti-poverty agency has revised its name and logo to make sure its mission is clear, both to people it assists and to western Massachusetts residents in general.

What was previously known as Community Action of the Franklin, Hampshire and North Quabbin Regions will now be known as Community Action Pioneer Valley, a name change that in part recognizes the work the agency also does in Hampden County, according to Executive Director Clare Higgins.

“We wanted the name to be more inclusive, to reflect the fact we really do work up and down the valley,” Higgins said.

With programs geared to help low-income residents on a host of issues — fuel assistance, early education, health care, youth services — the agency recently completed a three-year assessment of its work, Higgins said. And after consulting with other groups and coalitions it works with, the agency decided to boil down its mission statement to three words: access, opportunity and community.

“We’ve been around a long time, and the mission is as important as it’s ever been,” Higgins said. “It’s all about helping people, giving them a chance to succeed, and building healthy communities — working person to person, block to block, community to community.”

Franklin County beginnings

The agency began in Franklin County in the mid-1960s as part of the landmark federal legislation passed at the time that became more broadly known as the “War on Poverty.” ​​​​​Its annual budget of $30 million comes primarily from federal funding, along with contributions from the state, local government, donations and a few other sources.

Higgins said Community Action Pioneer Valley, which has over 300 employees, serves more than 26,000 people annually in western Massachusetts. Many programs, such as fuel assistance, are devoted to ensuring that people with limited means are not forced to choose between paying for basic needs such as food, warmth, shelter and health care, she added.

And right now, she said, the federal budget recently proposed by President Trump “zeroes out fuel assistance. That’s a program we’re involved with that affects 7,000 to 8,000 households. … This is a huge concern for us.”

On a more positive note, she said the agency’s granting of its Sargent Shriver Award — named for the activist and federal policy developer who founded Head Start, among other programs — to Scibak recognized his longtime support for issues such as early education.

“John has been a consistent advocate for paying people (in early education) adequate salaries so that they can stay on the job,” she said. “You need to have stable caregivers. … He’s going to be sorely missed.”

Scibak, who recently said he won’t seek re-election to the Massachusetts House this fall, said in a phone call from Florida that he was honored by the award and that he hopes whoever replaces him in the Legislature will recognize, as he does, the important work the agency does.

“They consistently look out for people who are not necessarily the most vocal, who may not be in the best position to advocate for themselves,” he said.

On Friday, the agency also honored the late Dr. Sarah Kemple of Leyden, a doctor who founded the Community Health Center of Franklin County and worked there for many years. Higgins described her as “a passionate and principled advocate for people who needed quality health care.”

Others the agency honored included:

Mayhew Steel/Deerfield Packaging for its efforts to create full-time employment opportunities for people Community Action Pioneer Valley had initially placed there in temporary positions;

Destiny Recor, an Orange resident who overcame substance-abuse issues to earn a degree from Greenfield Community College.

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