NEICAC celebrates community action month

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NEICAC board members representing Clayton County, from left, are Wendy Shea and Kari Harbaugh. Not pictured is board member Ron McCartney. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

In Clayton County, there are over 800 households and more than 2,000 people living below poverty level. More than a quarter of that population is under the age of 17. Northeast Iowa Community Action Corporation (NEICAC), a private nonprofit, has been serving these members of Clayton County since 1968. NEICAC celebrates National Community Action Month in May by sharing its stories and successes. 

“NEICAC’s vision is that all individuals and families participate in their community and access resources and opportunities as they develop economic security. NEICAC’s values are dedication, compassion, respect, accountability, self-sufficiency, responsibility, honor, progress and trust,” said Wendy Shea, who represents Clayton County on the NEICAC board of directors along with Kari Harbaugh of the Family Resource Center and Clayton County Supervisor Ron McCartney. 

“On behalf of the citizens of Clayton County, those of us who represent Clayton County on the NEICAC Board wish to applaud its efforts during this Community Action Month. The efforts of this board support those in our county who find themselves in need for various reasons, whether the cause is lack of jobs, low wages, low educational level, rise in single parent households, race and/or a culture of failure. These are our neighbors and it is the mission of NEICAC to strengthen communities toward lifelong success,” said Shea.

NEICAC serves six counties in addition to Clayton: Allamakee, Bremer, Chickasaw, Fayette, Howard and Winneshiek. The corporation headquarters is located in Decorah.  Currently, 182 people work for NEICAC, either part time or full time, and NEICAC employs 37 Clayton County residents who teach Head Start, drive rural transit vans, and perform various other jobs. 

“Through our participation on the board, we have learned a number of things about the lives of the low income. Most importantly, the present system of helping those who find themselves in need is not sufficient,” said Shea. “Currently in Iowa, families average 22 months of assistance from the Family Investment Program (FIP), commonly known as Welfare. These benefits in Iowa have not increased since 1989.” 

Maximum monthly benefits for a family of four are $495, and NEICAC’s many programs fill in where FIP leaves off.  “There is a segment of the population that falls through the cracks.  Though they have income, they still fall below the various income guidelines our programs have,” Shea explained.

Of those using NEICAC’s services in Clayton County, 49 percent were below the federal poverty level, 59 percent declared social security/pension as their only source of income, and nearly 24 percent had employment as the sole source of income, Shea told The Press. 

NEICAC’s programs in Clayton County include the following, with 2016 statistics for the Clayton County provided by Shea. 

• Family Services provides staff to help low-income and elderly people meet basic needs, whether through services provided by NEICAC or referrals to other providers. Family Services workers are NEICAC’s first line of defense for low-income families that are in financial difficulty. In 2016, 1578 individuals in 712 families received services. One third were children and 27 percent were elderly.

• Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program helps low-income families pay energy costs.  Some crisis funds are available for shut-offs and to repair/replace furnaces.  Last year 612 households received an average of $441 in fuel assistance.  One home received assistance with furnace replacement.

• Weatherization services provide materials and labor to help make homes more energy efficient. Carpenters weatherized eleven homes in the county last year, and scheduled furnace repairs or replacements.

• Family Development Self-Sufficiency assists families enrolled in the FIP program to overcome the obstacles blocking their journey to self-sufficiency.  Seven families worked with these specialists in 2016.

• Head Start/Child Development provides a comprehensive approach to center-based Early Childhood education to three and four-year-old children. The program also provides wrap-around services from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for working families or those in school. There are two Early Childhood Centers in Clayton County, one in Monona and one in Guttenberg.

• Early Head Start works with expectant moms and children aged 0-3 in a home-based setting by offering education, health, parent involvement and social services. Fifty-five individuals participated.

• NEICAC helps provide affordable housing opportunities to families via reduced rent apartments and homes under the lease purchase project. The program also provides budget and homebuyer counseling. NEICAC has constructed four homes in the county.

• NEICAC operates a clinic in Decorah. Services include STD testing, pelvic exams, PAP smears and education. Health education is provided for Central of Elkader, Edgewood-Colesburg, Clayton Ridge and MFL MarMac Schools.

• NEICAC also offers several types of transportation services including medical transportation both in and out of state.  The dispatch and management offices are located in Decorah. A Wheel to Work program is offered to help finance the purchase of cars to those working to get to jobs. 

“All these Clayton County services are managed by a very competent Community Action staff in Decorah, at the Clayton County Office Building in Elkader, at the Family Resource Center in Guttenberg and at the Community Center in Monona,” said Shea. The board of directors meets monthly with executive director Mary Humpal, who has served the organization for 45 years. 

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