When Community Action Wayne/Medina opened its doors 50 years ago, the agency was launched at the front end of the anti-poverty movement. Today, CAW/M has grown to a multi-faceted service provider, using a two-generation approach to leadership in family education and self-sufficiency with a budget over $9 million.
On August 20, 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA). The EOA created a variety of programs – including Community Action Agencies – as part of his War on Poverty. CAW/M was one of those agencies established to address local poverty problems in rural, urban and suburban communities across the country. Additional EOA programs were created to address other aspects of influence to resolve poverty impacts, including the Head Start program.
Community Action Wayne/Medina (CAW/M) was incorporated in 1966 as Ashland Wayne Community Action Commission and Head Start grantee. CAW/M was established to wage the war on poverty in its service area by:
Head Start was initiated to narrow the education achievement gap poverty can impact through a two-generation approach to supporting family education and early childhood development through a holistic family approach.
As programs were developed and community focus shifted, in 1978, Ashland split off from CAW/M and Medina County was incorporated into the local agency’s service area in 1983, creating the current geographic territory.
CAW/M helps countless individuals improve their lives each year by providing them essential services and life-changing opportunities through Head Start and Early Head Start, housing and economic assistance service that support household stability.
Through Head Start programs, learning experiences are offered that support a child’s physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development. Head Start promotes language and literacy development, early math and science concepts, and positive attitudes toward learning. Staff support learning through play, creative expression, and guided activities. The home cultures and languages of families are incorporated into children’s learning.
Head Start children and their families are provided with an array of services in collaboration with community partners. CAW/M works with families to help them identify and reach their goals around employment, training, parenting, and stable housing. Families are supported as their child’s first and most important caregivers, teachers, and advocates and make sure they have the resources to carry out these roles. Parents are engaged in making decisions about the program through parent committees and Policy Council. Children with diagnosed disabilities are served through Head Start, and other children are identified for further assessment through routine screening processes.
When children enroll in Head Start, they receive medical, dental, hearing, vision, and behavioral screening, with referrals when necessary for follow-up visits to the child’s doctor or to community partners. Families are assisted in accessing medical homes for their children. Children engage in self-care routines as they are able, such as brushing their teeth and toileting. In Head Start, children grow in their ability to experience, regulate, and express emotions. Nutrition is emphasized through education to both children and their parents.
CAW/M was one of the first CAP agencies to offer an Early Head Start program, serving children birth to age three before they were old enough to be enrolled in Head Start Preschool. During its history, CAW/M also introduced initiatives to further family health and safety through its Mother and Child Health Clinics, Partners In Advocacy (family mental health program), car seat safety and dental health taskforce. Last year, all eight Head Start centers achieved a five-star Step Up to Quality rating – the highest possible.
CAW/M’s housing and economic assistance services deliver various cost-savings programs, making homes safer, more energy-efficient and affordable. Other services support economic self-sufficiency addressing transportation, food insecurity, employment, prescription assistance and relevant community partnerships that leverage resources. Although many services provide a safety net effect, most are delivered with the intent of supporting continued upward mobility and improved quality of life.
“CAW/M’s track record in Wayne and Medina Counties highlights the positive impact we’ve had helping our neighbors through a variety of financial and personal challenges,” said Melissa Pearce, President/CEO. “We help over 15,000 individuals each year with a variety of programs such as Head Start, home weatherization, HEAP energy savings and transportation services and our success stories underscore our ability to achieve measurable results.
As CAW/M approached its 50th year of service, the agency moved forward with a strategic eye on the future and how its anti-poverty mission can best be delivered. The vision to repurpose the closed Lincoln Way Elementary School to become CAW/M’s new Wayne County home became a successful reality in the spring of 2015. Renovation improvements of the project feature consolidation of Wooster Head Start classrooms, the agency’s administrative offices and Wayne County housing and economic assistance programming. The Lincoln Way Center acts as a neighborhood anchor and community resource – an opportunity destination. Last year, CAW/M was responsive to dislocated residents at the Larwill Trailer Park in Wooster, assisted local residents in accessing over $500,000 in income tax refunds and supported 212 Head Start parents in attaining employment.
“CAW/M is successful every day in helping families achieve economic security. Given that the needs of each family are unique, Community Action is able to use a range of resources and programs to meet needs in creative and impactful ways,” said Pearce.
As the Community Action Partnership notes, in the last 50 years, CAAs has been extremely successful helping people achieve and maintain economic security despite budget cuts, shrinking resources and increased demands for services during challenging economic times.
Moving forward, with transportation scarcity topping the list of community needs for years, CAW/M is enhancing response beyond its car repair and bus/taxi pass program to fill the role of Mobility Manager for Wayne County. Recently, the City of Wooster approved CAW/M to operate its taxi pass program, opening accessibility to even more low-income neighbors.
In 2015, CAW/M also laid the ground work on moving the dial on lasting self-sufficiency for families by helping to establish Employing Medina County and working to garner the resources to launch Getting Ahead in Wayne County for 2016. Getting Ahead is designed to be a game changer as participants identify challenges, learn how to overcome them, establish and then achieve goals for household financial stability.
As an anti-poverty agency, CAW/M promotes a tradition of family self-sufficiency, education and well-being. Our two-generational approach to solutions focuses on family involvement and household stability. To celebrate CAW/M’s history of positive community impact, a family event is being planned on Thursday, August 11 from 4-6 at CAW/M’s Lincoln Way Center, 905 Pittsburgh Avenue, Wooster, OH. In Medina County, the family event will be celebrated on August 18. In the fall, Head Start open house events will take place at each of the eight centers.