The woman who walked into the Oakland Livingston Human Services Agency looked familiar to Ron Borngesser, but he was not expecting what she brought with her.
"She came in with a check, and I still remember the exact amount: $135.75," Borngesser, the CEO of OLHSA, recalled of the former client, who came to repay the agency for its past assistance. "That was just an incredible thing."
The agency had helped the woman pay her heating bill the previous winter, and she returned to donate the same amount, now that she had found a job and was grateful to be financially stable again.
The personal gratification was not in the money, he says, but rather the power of Community Action to make a positive impact, something he has witnessed firsthand during his more than 40 years at the agency.
"It grows on you, for certain," he says. "That's why I've stayed all these years. It sort of becomes a missionary zeal when you see all the good that you do in the community."
He sees it every day when hundreds of children converge on the main Oakland Livingston Human Services Agency campus for Head Start services. Many of those students go on to attend the agency's Pontiac Academy for Excellence K-12 charter school.
He also notes how the agency, which has a staff of 400 and a $30 million budget, provides employment opportunities. One shining example is a woman who began as a substitute Head Start teacher 25 years ago and is now a top administrator.
The agency also provides decent affordable housing through subsidiaries that construct and rehabilitate living units.
Borngesser, who holds a business degree with a focus in accounting from Michigan State University, had private sector job opportunities after he was discharged from the Navy in 1974. He instead opted to join the Oakland Livingston Human Services Agency as its personnel administrator after determining the post offered a chance to make a difference in society.
"You might give up higher salary opportunities available in the private sector when you join Community Action, but you get so much back in other ways," he says.
Borngesser held various positions within the agency before ascending to CEO in 1998.
He says he has found that the statewide Michigan Community Action association serves as an effective conduit for the 29 Community Action agencies throughout the state to share ideas and concepts. Borngesser served as MCA's president for two terms from 2007-2011.
Going forward, cooperation might take on added importance with the governmental push toward regionalization of services.
While regionalization holds the promise of increased efficiency, it could also threaten individual agencies' abilities to react nimbly to needs unique to their communities - a longtime strength of the Community Action network, Borngesser says.