I was just in Plymouth at the South Shore Community Action Council and my head is still trying to process the myriad of ways that the people who run this anti-poverty agency have used their stimulus funds to help the people in the South Coast area.
Pat Daly, who is the executive director of the agency, is clearly passionate about what she, and the people who work with her, do. She was thrilled to tell me that the agency served over 26,000 people over the past year and I was thrilled at how much the stimulus funds helped them do that.
Pat told me that there is a high unemployment rate in the area and requests for assistance are up. The fuel assistance program had 12,000 eligible applicants this past year alone. Lisa Spencer, who runs the energy program for the agency and whose job was retained thanks to stimulus, told me that her department spent $10 million so far this year.
The agency’s weatherization assistance program got nearly $2 million from stimulus and they are putting those funds to good use. Denise Tetreault, who is the energy services manager for the agency (and whose job was also retained thanks to stimulus!) told me that the agency has weatherized close to 200 homes this year, twice as many as usual. One of those homes is owned by Ruth Sanderson, an elderly widow whose old house had no insulation.
As I listened to Ruth singing the praises of the agency and those who weatherized her home I realized that this weatherization program is not just about the job – it is about going into people’s homes and changing their lives.
The agency also got funds for its Head Start program – nearly $770K – and another $120K to develop an early Head Start program. Jennifer Swinhart, who is the director of the Head Start and Child Care Services (I’m not making this up – her job was also retained thanks to stimulus) told me that the funding enabled them to take in another 100 kids, including developing an early Head Start program, which they got up and running within an incredible five months. Jennifer told me they hired nine new teachers and will be hiring five more.
Another of the agency’s programs that is thriving thanks to stimulus is its Healthy Harvest program in which the agency buys fruits and vegetables from a local organic farmer and distributes the food from its food warehouse. What I love about this program is how many volunteers pitch in to help. Pat Daly kept telling me the agency is essentially a large community and listening to Beth Thompson, the agency’s food project manager (whose job, of course, was retained by stimulus) list all the volunteer groups who help her – including local football teams, doctors offices staff, local businesses – I realized how right she was.
There is no way I could have understood the comprehensiveness and variety of these programs sitting in my office in Boston. I had to meet these people – each of whom, as Pat pointed out to me, rose to the challenge that the recession and stimulus gave to them.
I am continually amazed to discover what people are capable of doing and at the stimulus successes I keep finding across the Commonwealth.