Support program transitions to nonprofit

May 3, 2019

DeKALB – Helping people overcome poverty isn’t just about finding them a job. For clients at the nonprofit Family Service Agency of DeKalb County’s new program, Community Action, it’s about identifying barriers and empowering people to be self-sufficient.

The Community Action program, formerly DeKalb County Community Action, was acquired by Family Service Agency on April 1, after the county decided it could no longer operate it, said Tynisha Clegg, agency executive director.

She said there was no lapse in service because the county closed their doors on the program March 31, and theirs opened the next day. Community Action became the agency’s fifth program offered, and provides resources and tools to low-income families to help lift them out of poverty.

“In any other area, Community Action isn’t run by local government,” Clegg said. “There’s more that can be done with this program, and it’s better housed with a nonprofit.”

Colleen Parks joined the agency in December as associate executive director, and currently oversees Community Action while the agency hunts for a full-time program coordinator. The Community Action program also employs three full-time family support specialists and is looking to hire for additional positions.

“This program is intense case management,” Parks said, emphasizing that the program isn’t just for homeless or unemployed people, but for those suffering from mental illness, abuse or other social barriers that inhibit a person’s ability to live a productive, happy life.

The agency will soon move from its 8,000-square-foot facility at 14 Health Services Drive to a 14,000-square-foot facility at 1325 Sycamore Road by Sept. 1.

“If you think about poverty, some individuals may not know how to identify those barriers,” Parks said. “We can identify several goals: figuring out a budget, getting a job, how do they get transportation to that job, getting education, developing a resumé.”

Fortunately for the clients and the agency, Community Action staff members came with the transition, including family service specialist Joanne Dunbar. Dunbar said when she first learned of the transition, she wasn’t certain she wanted to go.

“At one point, I wasn’t sure I was going to come over [to Family Service Agency], and I was pushing my clients to go with the program,” Dunbar said, calling the transition “very stressful.”

Dunbar said her clients are “really awesome” and told her they wouldn’t continue in the program without her, so she came to the agency.

“That really points to the relationships between the clients and Joanne,” Clegg said.

As a family support specialist, Dunbar connects personally, often one-on-one, with clients and families, connecting them with resources in the agency and outside, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, education resources, job training and insurance advice. She also conducts mock interviews and puts together a job board in the hallway for clients to learn about employment opportunities.

For Parks, who, like Dunbar, is also fairly new at the agency, growing pains are just a part of the process. Parks worked for Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital before joining the agency and said since the April 1 program transition, she and Dunbar have been routinely brainstorming.

“Change is hard for all of us,” Parks said. “We’ve been looking at what’s worked with the program, what we can do better for everybody.”

Clients can walk in to the agency between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., and can stop in by appointment from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Like all the agency’s other programs, there’s no cost involved.

“We’re just trying to meet people where they’re at,” Clegg said.