Volume 1, Issue 8                                                                             September 2015

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MCA's Mission
To serve member agencies  and strengthen their capacity to alleviate the causes and circumstances of poverty.
Director's Message
Policymakers are looking at your website
By Kate White, MCA Executive Director
       Among the many takeaways from the recent national conference in San Francisco was a colleague's presentation on the importance of an agency's website in its advocacy efforts.  A website is a voice that works constantly to educate our most important audiences.
       As agency leaders, we know it's a good idea to stock our websites with information our specific communities will find helpful, but do we look at it more critically as a resource for policymakers?  Legislators and members of Congress often access organizations' websites for background on issues, insight they may not be able to find elsewhere and links to other resources.  In order to evaluate your website as a working part of your advocacy team, consider the following:  

   Does it do a good job of defining your agency and its mission clearly, so that outsiders come away with an accurate understanding?

    Does it contain up-to-date summaries of the issues your agency considers critical?

   Have you included position papers or issue briefs that outline your support or opposition?

   Are there stories or anecdotes about people who have been impacted by your programs and services?

   Are there relevant and objective studies, data and fact sheets to support your positions?

   Is your annual report easily accessible and does it clearly explain your funding needs and current funding sources?

   Does it help visitors connect to other organizations that align with your mission, using easy-to-access links?

   Is your website current?  Is it being updated at least weekly?  Do you have a staff person who is responsible for identifying information to include and does he or she do so regularly?

      Your website is a powerful tool for information.  By optimizing it, you can more effectively guide key audience perceptions and awareness.  Taking a strategic and deliberate approach to the content of your website allows you to write the story line policymakers need to know.  

Deadline for home heating tax credit 
is Sept. 30 SideStory3

  Low-income homeowners can get about $140 toward utility bills if they file for a home heating credit before Sept. 30.

   The credit is designed to provide assistance to low-income residents or veterans with disabilities, including those who are hearing or sight impaired. Michigan residents who are not in these groups may also qualify for the credit.  It can be for either renters or homeowners, and helps participants avoid energy bill debt.

   For more information, click here.

MACAA New Directors Orientation Sept. 23-24
in St. Paul, Minn. 
   The Mid-America Communication Action Association will host a new directors' training session 
Sept. 23 and 24 in St. Paul,  Minn., at the Crowne Plaza, St. Paul Riverfront, 11 East Kellogg Blvd.  
The program will start at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 23, with breakfast and will conclude early or midafternoon on Thursday, Sept. 24.
   Hotel Rate:
The room rate is $159 per night plus taxes.
The fee for the orientation session is $249 per person and includes two breakfasts, two lunches and dinner on Sept. 23.
    Use the link below for conference registration and hotel reservations. 
Have a Catalyst story idea?
   Is there a story or issue you'd like to see covered in Catalyst?
  Let us know what's happening in your agency or region.  Recent events?  People news?  We welcome your input and feedback.  Please send your comments and ideas to:

Weatherization Day
at the Capitol Oct. 29
       National Weatherization Day is Oct. 30, and MCA is planning a special event at the Capitol the day before (Thursday, Oct. 29) to demonstrate to legislators how Weatherization Assistance Programs (WAP) benefit their constituents.
       W AP has helped low-income American families save millions of dollars in heating and cooling costs since the program began in 1977.
       Michigan's WAP is administered by the state Department of Human Services and implemented through the network of Community Action Agencies across the state. Agencies take applications for the program, determine homeowner eligibility, schedule to have the work done by local contractors, provide education to demonstrate smart use of energy and follow up with homeowners with other services to improve their economic self-sufficiency.
       Some recent outcomes attributed to WAP in Michigan include a 26 percent decrease in disconnect notices and a 50 percent reduction in actual terminations of service. Homeowners also report decreases in illnesses and hunger and increases in comfort and safety.
       "Community Action Agencies are proud of our achievements in low-income weatherization," says
 Kate White, MCA executive director.  " As families spend less on their heating bills, they free up money that can be used for other necessities.  It gets them closer to the goal of economic self-sufficiency." 
CCAP certification process begins this month 
       It's not too early to begin thinking about the next Certified Community Action Professional test, which the National Community Action Partnership (NCAP) will offer in Michigan in June 2016.  Designed for current and emerging managers in the Community Action profession, the credential gives those who attain it both professional and personal benefits.
       The first CCAP study group is Sept. 21 at 10 a.m. at the MCA office, 2173 Commons Parkway in Okemos, with a second session scheduled for Nov. 23.  Attendees are not required to have officially enrolled as CCAP candidates with the national partnership.  The meeting will employ Herman Melville's six strategies for understanding difficult material.  Charles H. McCann, CCAP emeritus, will facilitate the study group.
        Stephanie Kasprzak , executive director of the Monroe County Opportunity Program, says these sessions can take years off a learning curve.  
       "This is a wonderful opportunity that I highly suggest every Community Action professional take advantage of, especially those who are new to their positions," says Kasprzak, who completed the process this year and earned the designation in August. "There were many times during the process that I thought, 'I should have done it years ago.'"
       Agency leaders often find that as certified professionals they gain an edge in competing for public and private grant funds, according to NCAP.   
       Kasprzak urges colleagues to begin preparing now in order to take the test next June.
       "It is a great opportunity to have the process right here in Michigan and I hope you all will consider it.  It will enhance your commitment to our cause and give you meaningful tools to make your agency, and our state network, stronger."

Executive Profile executive
Northwest CAA leader recalls Community Action's history
John Stephenson
    John Stephenson recalls the waves of political resistance Community Action Agencies nationwide had faced during the late 1960s and early 1970s.  When he joined Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency (NMCAA) in 1978, Community Action's future seemed anything but a sure thing.
   Much of the opposition had come from urban mayors, who viewed the agencies' advocacy for the disadvantaged as a threat to their power, says Stephenson, who began at NMCAA as a Head Start administrator.
   Today, Community Action is a widely accepted component of the social services system, its track record of helping those in need move toward self-sufficiency resonating with people of all political persuasions, Stephenson notes.
   "It's kind of hard to argue that that type of approach doesn't make sense," he says. "Typically what you find on an individual basis is that people get it.  It doesn't matter what their political leanings are."
   Helping to promote widespread understanding of Community Action Agencies' mission is the inclusive composition of their boards of directors - one-third public officials, one-third members of the private sector and one-third Community Action clients.
   It's a member of that last group whom Stephenson cites as a Northwest Michigan Community Agency success story.
   The man was born into extreme poverty and didn't originally complete high school.  He and his wife had two children in NMCAA's Head Start program, where a social worker saw the potential in him.  She encouraged the man to obtain his high school diploma, which led to a factory job.
   Then, wanting to reach his full potential, the man took business classes at a local college, where he learned the skills to form his own business.  He now owns a string of video rental stores in rural northern Michigan communities where Internet access remains spotty.
   "We have hundreds of those types of stories, although it doesn't happen over night," Stephenson says.  "Helping them move along the path to self-sufficiency can take years, but when it happens there's a tremendous sense of satisfaction.
   "Nobody works in this business to get rich," he adds.  "People tend to stay in it because of that feeling of satisfaction."
   Stephenson held a series of Head Start and agency positions until 2002, when he became executive director of NMCAA, which has 400 employees who serve 10 northern Michigan counties.  Before joining NMCAA, he was a probation officer in Akron, Ohio, which at the time was part of what was considered a progressive court system that focused on psychological and family treatment.
   In addition to overseeing NMCAA, Stephenson chairs Michigan Community Action's board of directors.
   "I'm really proud of the association and the work that has been done in close coordination with the statewide network in the past couple of years, especially in improving our advocacy efforts," he says.  A recent success was convincing state lawmakers to set aside a portion of federal Low-Income Heating & Energy Assistance Program funds for weatherization so that more Michigan households can realize reduced energy costs on an ongoing basis.
   Nationally, President Obama's first-term threat to eliminate the Community Action program served as a wake-up call to agencies, Stephenson explains, adding that mismanagement at a small number of high profile agencies in a handful of states had detracted from the overall system's success.
   Today, however, each agency is held to a set of strict performance standards.  At the same time, agencies are striving to highlight their extensive reach into their communities by making clear that they are far more than deliverers of emergency services and that they work in a myriad of systematic ways to move people toward independence.
Oct. 9 conference will
offer tips on greening
houses of worship  
   With growing awareness of environmental realities, many religious communities are taking action to make their houses of worship more energy efficient and sustainable. 
     On Friday, Oct. 9, Michigan Interfaith Power and Light will hold its 10th Annual Sustainability Conference at Peoples Church in East Lansing from 7:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. 
   With the theme "Green & Grow Your Congregation," the conference will provide attendees with actionable information about how sustainability (on-site energy efficiency, renewable energy, etc.) can enable growth in congregations.  
   Presenters include  Sister Simone Campbell  ("Nun on the Bus");  Valerie Brader, executive director, Michigan Agency for Energy; and the Rev. George Heartwell, Grand Rapids mayor and sustainability champion.
   Registration and  more information is available  here.