Community Action revises name, issues awards at annual meeting

  • Executive Director Clare Higgins GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  •  Rep. John Scibak, D-South Hadley GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Thursday, February 22, 2018

With a new year — and new challenges — ahead, the Valley’s premier anti-poverty agency has revised its name and logo to make sure its mission is clear, both to people it assists and to western Massachusetts residents in general.

What was previously known as Community Action of the Franklin, Hampshire and North Quabbin Regions will now be known as Community Action Pioneer Valley, a name change that in part recognizes 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,” Higgins said.

With programs geared to help low-income residents on a host of issues — fuel assistance, early education, health care, 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.”

On Feb. 16, at its annual breakfast, held at the Hadley Farms Meeting House for employees, community partners, donors and legislators, agency officials unveiled the new name and outlined some goals for the coming year. As well, several people, including outgoing state Rep. John Scibak, D-South Hadley, were honored for their contributions to the group and for their work for low-income residents in general.

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

Higgins said CAPV, which has over 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 CAPV’s granting of its Sargent Shriver Award — named for the activist and federal policy developer who founded Head Start, among other programs — to Scibak recognized his longtime support for issues such as early education.

“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 that he was honored by the award from CAPV and that he hoped whoever replaced him in the Legislature would 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.

On Feb. 16, CAPV also honored the late Dr. Sarah Kemple of Leyden, a doctor who founded the Community Health Center of Franklin County and worked there for many years. Higgins described her as “a passionate and principled advocate for people who needed quality health care.”

Others the agency honored were:

— Mayhew Steel/Deerfield Packaging for its efforts to create full-time employment opportunities for people CAPV had initially placed there in temporary positions;

— Maria Paz Moreno of Easthampton, who devoted over 300 hours of volunteer work to the agency’s Head Start program despite running a cookie-baking business; and

— Destiny Recor, an Orange resident who overcame substance-abuse issues to earn a degree from Greenfield Community College.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com

More information about Community Action Pioneer Valley can be found at www.communityaction.us.