New year, new name for Community Action

For the Athol Daily News
Wednesday, February 21, 2018

With a new year — and new challenges — ahead, a local anti-poverty agency has revised its name and logo to ensure its mission is clear, both to people it assists and to western Massachusetts residents in general.

Community Action of the Franklin, Hampshire and North Quabbin Regions has changed its name to Community Action Pioneer Valley to, in part, recognize 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,” she said.

With programs aimed at helping low-income residents on a host of issues — including fuel assistance, early education, health care and 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.”

Its beginnings

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

Higgins said Community Action Pioneer Valley, which has more 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 granted its Sargent Shriver Award to John Scibak to recognize the state representative’s longtime support for issues such as early education. The award is named for the activist and federal policy developer who founded Head Start among other programs.

“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 he was honored by the award and 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.

Destiny Recor, an Orange resident who overcame substance-abuse issues to earn a degree from Greenfield Community College was also recently honored by the agency, as was the late Dr. Sarah Kemble, a doctor and Leyden resident who founded the Community Health Center of Franklin County and worked there for many years.

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