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A celebration of CAO

CAO of Scioto celebrates Community Action Month

Community Action Agencies (CAAs) across the country are celebrating this month, as they recognize their vast programming for Community Action Month, which takes place every year in May. Our local organization is no different, as they boast massive programming and functions that span the direction and vision of Executive Director Steve Sturgill and directors Sarah Sloan, Randy Cooper, Angie Davis, and Luanne Valentine, as well as a team of managers, coordinators, and support staff.

Community Action Agency (CAO) of Scioto County has not only been sustaining regular operations across the board but has been working on rebranding the Welcome Center as the CAO of Scioto County Welcome Center, which is home to many integral area non-profits and businesses, as well as one of the few community centers in the area; has been expanding on community development and housing efforts; growing social programming and more.

“The Community Action Organization of Scioto County has been working especially hard these days to not only provide excellent services that are much needed to our community, but also broadening our outreach to better showcase direct services and partnered opportunities,” Executive Director Steve Sturgill said. “We serve the community through workforce needs, social services, health and nutrition services, energy services, education, community development, housing, and more. We are proud that people feel confident and comfortable enough in our brand when they need help to know they can walk through our doors and either directly receive assistance or be navigated in the right direction. We grow every year and that only means we are making living situations that much better for our entire community. That’s something, in my opinion, to be proud of.”

One of the largest programs includes the Early Head Start and Head Start department of operation, which is managed by Director Sarah Sloan.

The division impressively employs 100 staff that serve 422 children and pregnant women. The programming offered provides early childhood education that prepares students and their families for a successful life and educational career as they set out into the world.

“We serve pregnant women and children 0 to 5 in nine centers throughout the county. Children can come to a center and be a part of the school family in a classroom or families may request a Home Visitor,” Sloan said. “Home Visitors work with families in their home.”

Sloan says that the administration views their mission in three parts.

“First, we provide free quality early childhood education. School readiness prepares children for lifelong learning and is our driving goal. We believe that children learn through doing. Our staff prepares the classroom environment for children to play, explore and grow developing their academic and social-emotional skills,” Sloan explained. “Second, we provide family education. We believe that parents are their child’s first teacher. We want to empower families to be their child’s advocate and grow a strong family. We always have an open-door policy and encourage families to be part of their child’s education. Check out our Facebook page to see all the activities we provide for families and their children. Third, we provide job training. Sixty percent of our workforce are parents from our program. Not only do we provide great jobs, but we also provide classes and training for our employees. Every classroom has a teacher with a degree in early childhood education and two assistant teachers with a Child Development Associate. Each family has a Family Service Advocate that works with them to address their social service needs. We believe our staff are always learning as much as our children are!”

One of the most diverse departments is Workforce Solutions, the workforce and community development arm of CAO, managed by Director Luanne Valentine.

The department is multi-faceted and touches base on workforce practices for job seekers and employers, training opportunities, community development, housing, tobacco cessation, and many more elements that lead to changing lives.

The department employs 25 professionals and assists the entire region through its services. It also has over 700 clients enrolled in its program, who directly receive benefits.

“The Workforce Solutions team has been working hard to identify and secure funding and resources that address a variety of customer needs. Whether it’s training to secure a job or move up the ladder, providing a safe place for an infant to sleep, supporting residents as they quit smoking, addressing hunger, or working with businesses to upskill their current workforce, we have a solution,” Director Valentine said. “Since the onset of the pandemic, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of customers interested in accessing services. We are serving more adult job seekers now than we ever have, at least in my 30-year tenure. The number of interactions we have with the business community continues to grow as do the services we are able to make available to them. And, we now have the benefit of directly working with several local communities in identifying ways to improve the overall health of the people residing there, either through the modernization of parks, expanding emergency services, or developing housing initiatives or improving housing conditions.”

Valentine’s work witnesses 455 adult and youth participants enrolled in an employment or training activity. This is post-secondary training, collegiate or vocational, in an in-demand occupation or paid internship activity in a local work site.  The department has 31 individuals who have completed the pre-apprenticeship program, moving on to one of the local trade unions for additional training.

This year, the department has had 20 incumbent workers benefiting from leadership training, over 40 local employers have trained adults and youth through paid internships, and 220 jobs have been posted through the Business Resource Network.

 In 2022, 150 expectant mothers received navigation services, some receiving transportation assistance, car seats, safe sleep packages and/or incentives. 20 received outpatient individual or family mental health counseling. Close to 70 families were provided services through the family strong program. 102 fathers enrolled in Dads Matter program. 15 feeding sites, where 5,006 breakfasts, 7,904 lunches, and 3,114 weekend meals, as well as over 100,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables were distributed, were in operation, and more.

An instrumental department in the organization includes Social Services, under the management of Director Angie Davis. The department is one of the most known to the public and employs 30 individuals and serves thousands of clients at any given point in time.

“CAO’s Social Service Department staff are focused on helping to meet the basic needs of households in Scioto County,” Davis said. “Services may include water bill assistance, electric bill assistance, heating bill assistance, rent assistance, home delivered meals for seniors over 60 years old, congregate meals for seniors, mobile hygiene services, and other services with the focus of helping families and individuals remain in their homes or obtain safe affordable housing.  Our goals are to improve our client’s health, well-being, and quality of life.”

The Social Services arm of CAO was an impressive powerhouse in 2022. They served 77,747 meals through their Senior Nutrition Program. The Winter Crisis Program, which operated November 1 to March 31, invested $714,275 on local households. The Home Energy Assistance Program served 11,505 households, the Percentage of Income Payment Plan served 4,903 households, the Winter Crisis Program served 2,015 households, the Summer Crisis Program served 787 households, and the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program served 348 customers at $87,383; ; the Mobile Hygiene Unit provided over 200 shower visits and 200 laundry visits monthly, and $2,283,583.39 was dispersed through Emergency Cash Assistance

Housing & Energy Services is an important department that assists homeowners and renters directly across the county. It employs 12 individuals and served over 500 clients last year, under direction of Director Randy Cooper

“The best part of what we do is when you hear back from the little, 80-year-old, elderly homeowner that says we have made their home now more livable and efficient and they can continue to live there rather than have to move in with family or other alternative means,” Director Cooper said. “Over the course of the last year, we have weatherized over 150 homes with insulating attics and sidewalls while performing air sealing to make them easier to heat and cool. We have either made repairs to their current heating systems or replaced them, so they do not have to worry when cold weather hits.”

The department conducted 350 energy assessments, replacing over 100 refrigerators and freezers, and replaced old, incandescent lighting with 7000 LED Lightbulbs. Under all programs, the department runs a 1.5 million dollar budget.

Through a Health Department contract, the CAO provides services under the Women Infant and Children (WIC) Program. The department is a common household name that makes a huge difference in the lives of young families everywhere, providing nutrition counseling, breastfeeding support and supplemental foods that makes a huge difference in the lives of young families in our county. Coordinator Barb Gibson is responsible for that service and employs seven people within her department.

Gibson and her employees are currently serving 107% of the current assigned caseload of 1,423 participants.

“We are gearing up for our yearly Farmers Market Nutrition Program associated with the Original Farmers Market on Market Square beginning in June,” Gibson claimed. “We look forward to seeing the community support our local farmers and reap the benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables.”

The future of CAO is bright, according to Sturgill, who is confident in his team, due to constant growth in several of the departments. He reflects on these accomplishments during Community Action Month.

“When we grow, it means the community grows and receives that wealth through added services. It means we offer more opportunities to the most vulnerable. It means we change lives and help people. So, when I see growth in our agency, as I do every year, it makes me proud to know we have individuals who care enough to work that much harder to make a difference where it is needed most.”

CAO of Scioto County has many locations, including the main campus and its annex, south campus and its annex, north campus, and more. Those interested in learning more about CAO, or are looking to enroll in services, are encouraged to visit them at their main campus location, 433 Third Street, or by calling 740.354.7541.

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