JOIP Intern Brittany Grady reflects on an organization serving the Jasper community in her final thought piece from her summer internship.
Walker County is home to a diverse population of citizens of all ages, ethnicities, and income levels. In the county seat of Jasper, organizations often struggle with serving the needs of the community.
Partnerships with other groups, such as Women for Hope and faith-based organizations are vital to the work of improving lives in Walker County.
Tackling issues often becomes a group effort. Local resident Cristy Moody explained, “Often multiple organizations divert resources to address the same problem because the needs are so great.”
One such organization that works closely with others is the Walker County Community Action Agency. According to WCCAA Executive Director Deidre Tatum, the main focus of the agency is helping low-income families and individuals become self-sufficient. Partnerships with other groups, such as Women for Hope and faith-based organizations, Tatum said, are vital to the work of improving lives in Walker County.
WCCAA programs include multiple efforts aimed at serving families on youth, health, and career development fronts. Tatum explained, “I want people to leave here being self-sufficient.”
Services provided by the organization are aimed at teaching necessary life skills such as budgeting, computer literacy, and career development. The agency also offers utility assistance, emergency food assistance, and a clothing closet.
Tatum said the agency is deeply involved with youth initiatives such as an after-school program and summer camp. Other programs include summer basketball and volleyball, senior outreach, the annual health fair, and various community awareness programs.
The WCCAA was originally created in 1964 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. The federal government then allocated funds to create community agencies across the country to address the needs of the poor and to examine the conditions that cause poverty. There are now 21 community agencies working across Alabama. However, Tatum explained that these agencies have not been solely funded by the federal government for some time.
Now, the state is responsible for allocating funds. Tatum works to fund the agency by applying for grants from the federal government, private organizations, and community foundations. Despite funding challenges, Tatum said she takes pride in WCCAA efforts and strives to keep them running. “My staff and I have worked so hard to reach people through our programs,” she added.
After Tatum first began working in August of 2006, her first actions were focused on improving the agency’s procedures, finances, and staff. Now, she said, WCCAA is in a better position to help low-income individuals.
Tatum said that effort is a “two-way street”, and clients who receive services must meet requirements. The organization offers three types of assistance from general, crisis, and Alabama Business Charitable Trust funds. Once someone has reached their limit of assistance within a 12-month timetable, they are required to take a three-month budgeting seminar.
Tatum said she spends a lot of her time out of the office working directly with people. In addition, she also completes Community Needs Assessments. These assessments take place every three years and require Mrs. Tatum to conduct surveys, interviews, and gather testimonies from community members. The main goal of the assessment is to evaluate community needs and the organization’s impact on those needs.
One aspect that sets WCCAA apart from others in the community is its board of directors. The organization’s board includes low income representatives as well as individuals from government and local business to ensure all voices are being heard.
-Brittany Grady, 2016-17 JOIP Intern