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Because it does so much, it’s probably simpler to list what Community Action Duluth doesn’t do.
“We don’t provide services that what I’d call ‘make poverty bearable,’” says Angie Miller, the organization’s executive director. “What we do at Community Action is help people move up and out of poverty.”
Daletta Higgins is one of numerous Duluth residents whose lives Community Action Duluth has help transform. “I didn’t know about certain things in life,” she says. Meeting with a Community Action financial coach, Higgins was able to see new possibilities. “I want to actually own a business one day,” she says. “I never thought about that until I started talking about my future, talking about my credit and talking about budgeting.
“I am willing to do more in life and by myself, thanks to Community Action,” Higgins adds.
Higgins has benefited from an empowerment and coaching model introduced to Community Action by Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). “We used to have employment coaches and financial coaches working separately and not with the same people,” Miller says. “Through LISC’s model, people work with both.”
That model represents just one of the many ways that the Duluth office LISC has helped Community Action Duluth help others help themselves. Community Action Duluth’s 15 programs annually serve about 3,000 people in the Duluth region. Those programs include financial services, employment, transportation and leadership development, as well as coaching and counseling in job-getting skills and healthy lifestyle choices. It’s a holistic approach, one which understands that people seeking to rise from poverty often need a community of programs and services working in concert.
Since 2011, the Duluth office of LISC has worked with Community Action on several projects. Duluth LISC has provided gap funding for the organization’s transitional-jobs programs. It helped Community Action set up Twin Accounts, a credit-building product that allows people to get small loans and pay them back into a secured account. Duluth LISC also has financially supported the expansion of the farmer’s market that Community Action Duluth operates in Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, in addition to funding a portion of the wages earned by the transitional employees who work there. With meat and eggs now offered regularly there, the farmer’s market has become a local provider of healthy food in a neighborhood that’s a USDA-designated food desert.
Duluth LISC also guided Community Action’s move from a cramped office location into spacious new quarters in Lincoln Park Commons, a former school whose redevelopment into a housing and community center was led by LISC. With this move, Community Action has been able to offer even more programs. One is Connect Forward, which provides resources that support people seeking work that will allow them to climb the employment ladder. Duluth LISC is helping fund the Community Action staff member who manages the program and works with the various partners involved, as well as providing funding for four financial coaches.
A major Connect Forward partner is Duluth-based hospital and clinic system Essentia Health. Together, Essentia and Community Action Duluth connect people with training for entry-level health care positions—jobs that can lead to careers.
“We are looking to do more in the community outside of the four walls of our hospital, so to speak—to try and help educate the greater population on the value of health care work, and the many types of opportunities that are available,” says Meghann Whiting, a workforce planning and sourcing specialist at Essentia Health. Community Action works with the job seekers to overcome any barriers that might have in pursuing meaningful work. And it helps Essentia “find people who have an interest, and it helps to ‘specialize’ them in the fields in which we need workers,” Whiting adds.
Higgins is currently a certified nursing assistant for Essentia Health. “It is a good pay rate, but I can’t settle for this,” she says. “I found out that they have a tuition reimbursement program. After I get done with school, I am going to be an accountant.
Another Duluth resident, Lisa LeDoux, graduated from Connect Forward’s Pathways to Prosperity Health Service Class in March. A former medical assistant, LeDoux “wanted to up my skills, because I had been out of the field for a while.” She had been a certified nursing assistant, but she realized she “liked the secretarial end of things.” The five-month course was funded by a Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development grant to the Duluth Workforce Development office. It taught LeDoux a variety of skills, including keyboarding, Microsoft Office applications, and medical terminology and abbreviations. In addition, Community Action staff worked with her on resume preparation and techniques for successfully presenting oneself at an interview and at work.
And it’s worked: In mid-April, LeDoux began a new job as a medical secretary at Essentia St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth.
Like Higgins, LeDoux willingly admits that Community Action’s support was essential to her success. And Community Action’s Miller freely acknowledges Duluth LISC’s crucial support. Success is a matter of community, after all. By working together, people and organizations can achieve victories small and great.