By: Philip E. Cole, Executive Director of Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies
Community Action Month is a time for our network to reflect on our successes and the triumphs of the people we serve. Throughout the past year, the pandemic created new hurdles we did not forsee. However, because of Community Action’s experience and capacity, the network quickly responded to the community’s needs, created new ways to operate safely and effectively, and served a record number of customers who needed help—many who needed it for the first time.
Safe, affordable, and stable housing is a vital component to independent success at any time, though during a global pandemic, maintaining that was even more critical for the health and safety of families and the entire community. While many Ohioans transitioned to a work-from-home model, others lost their primary incomes or struggled to find the transportation to continue their essential work. The impact of lost wages and transportation rippled throughout the nation and significantly impacted families’ ability to maintain their basic needs. Food, housing, and utilities were at risk, and the internet—which was once thought of as a luxury—demonstrated how vital this utility is to education and economic stability.
But in true Ohio fashion, we came together as a state, as individual communities, and as humankind. And Community Action remained at the helm. Time was of the essence during a period when the unknown was greater than the known—though our network never waivered. Community Action Agencies built upon their already solid partnerships and went into action. CARES Act funding provided necessary resources to keep people in their homes, get them to work, continue advancing academic success, and keep us connected while maintaining a safe distance.
Over one year after the pandemic reared its ugly head, the network continues to progress towards recovery. The Ohio Home Relief programs are available to help keep people housed and maintain their utilities—including internet services. Food and household pantries provide nutrition and sanitation products to help Ohioans stay healthy. And workforce initiatives are operating powerfully to get Ohioans back to work.
While I did not imagine a pandemic in my lifetime, I never doubt Community Action’s ability to respond to whatever challenge is presented. That is why we are here. It is why we continue to advance our mission, help people, and change lives. I am always proud to be a part of this network and reinvigorated with the energy of over 6,500 people helping their neighbors, improving lives, and bringing hope to their communities. This month, we celebrate with you.