A year ago, I arrived in Santa Barbara County to take the helm of the Community Action Commission (CAC). The most frequent question I was asked in 2018 was “what is your vision for the CAC?”
The simple answer is this: to move the dial on poverty and homelessness in our community.
That’s a tall order. It begins with a strategic shift in how we, as a social service organization, see our consumers. Rather than “recipients” of services, we want to view them as partners in a journey toward self-sufficiency.
We all know the root causes of poverty – lack of education and job training, financial illiteracy, scarcity of affordable housing, unreliable childcare and transportation. At CAC and other nonprofit agencies in the county, there are many programs for low-income residents addressing job, housing and food insecurity, as well as education needs. But the key to breaking the cycle of poverty is addressing the whole family with an integrated plan for self-sufficiency. Here is a favorite example:
Twenty years ago, Maria Douvia was a single mother of two struggling to make ends meet, relying on public assistance and sometimes experiencing homelessness. Through a neighbor she heard about Head Start, the high-quality early care and education program for low-income families, and enrolled her 4-year old.
Because Head Start’s child care and education model works with parents to help educate them about child development, encouraging them to participate and volunteer in the classroom, Maria soon became interested in becoming a teacher. With support from CAC programs and personnel, Maria pursued and, in 1998, obtained an associate degree in early childhood education. In 2000, she became a Head Start site supervisor and continued to work on her education, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in child development in 2006, and moving up to Head Start program manager for Santa Maria and now Lompoc.
All three of Maria’s children – now thriving, successful adults – attended a Head Start school. Maria credits the program with giving her the vital parenting skills for raising happy and engaged children, and showing her a path out of poverty and into financial stability. Her teaching career now allows her to help others rise up and become self-sufficient. Thirteen years ago, Maria also started the well-regarded Toys for Tots program in Santa Maria, and just completed the most recent toy drive in Lompoc.
“I love to help families like mine” Maria says.
At Community Action Commission, we are dedicated to partnering with people who have had less opportunity and more hardship in their lives to help them achieve their self-determined goals. Using coaching and case management with our comprehensive social service programs, we have and will continue to have more stories like Maria’s.
Here’s to a successful and self-sufficient new year for all.
CEO of Community Action Commission in Santa Barbara County.