Friday, December 14, 2007

Putnam anti-poverty group might close doors

from the Charlestown Gazette

By Alison Knezevich
Staff writer

After months of money troubles, officials with the Putnam County Community Action Council are strongly considering closing the anti-poverty agency, a board member said Thursday.

Board members met Wednesday night and discussed dissolving the organization, board vice president Jackie Chaney said. But the board, which has nine members, lacked enough members at the meeting to take official action.

“We did not make a decision,” Chaney said.

The group has served the needy for more than 40 years — teaching them to read, paying utility bills, helping them find jobs and get food and other items. In recent years, Community Action has helped almost 3,000 people annually.

Last week, county commissioners gave the group a $10,000 loan to help it stay open through the holiday season. Every winter, Community Action works with local churches to run the Holiday Helpers program, which matches needy families to sponsors who give them Christmas toys and food.

Since summer, Community Action has employed only one person, Executive Director Dawn Bennett. She will be laid off next week, Chaney said.

In July, one of Community Action’s funding sources, the Region 2 Workforce Investment Board, announced it didn’t have enough money to pay contracts for the 2006-07 fiscal year. The agency froze payments, and still owes Community Action $45,000.

Other factors also contributed to the budget problems, Chaney said.

“It’s just a horrible set of unfortunate circumstances,” she said. “I am certainly feeling so depressed about it all because it’s something that has been around a long time.”

Community Action board members hoped they could get funding for next year from Capital Resource Agency, which distributes federal funds to social service agencies.

But on Tuesday, Capital Resource director Oren Thornhill told county commissioners he had “lost confidence” in Community Action.

Thornhill said his agency plans to open its own Putnam location to serve the poor with services such as weatherization assistance and education programs.

Next week, the Community Action board members plan to meet with commissioners again to discuss the loan, Chaney said.

County Commissioner Gary Tillis spoke in favor of granting the loan at the county commission meeting last week. On Thursday, he said he does not regret lending county money to the group.

Even though Capital Resource plans to open a Putnam office in January, they wouldn’t have been able to help all the families who needed assistance in December, he said.

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