but we cannot love without giving."
These words are engraved on a service appreciation plaque that hangs in Executive Director Neil Montgomery's office at the Southwest Oklahoma Community Action Group, Inc. (SOCAG), and these words strike the very core of the organization's mission.
This non-profit private organization located in the Lincoln Center at 900 S. Carver Road actively strives to help others help themselves.
Formed in 1964 during President Johnson's "War on Poverty" as a tool to help alleviate poverty, Community Action is celebrating its 40 year anniversary this month. One thousand Community Action facilities operate across the nation, 20 of which are in Oklahoma. The group has a 27-member board representing three areas of the community to ensure all have an equal voice: nine members of the public sector, nine members of the private sector and nine low-income representatives, with nine alternatives.
Montgomery said the organization is here for one specific reason, "to become involved in the community and make it a better place for all citizens."
Nutrition, volunteerism, transportation, housing, child and youth development, community service, vocational training as well as partnering with United Way in four programs are the areas under the organization's umbrella. It provides all these services to qualifying individuals. Montgomery stressed the group's uniqueness from other groups because of the range of services offered.
"We're different; we're a hybrid," Montgomery said.
Examples under each category include meals which are served to people 60 and older, five days a week in six communities including Altus, Hollis and Mangum. The meals not only provide nutrition, but promote socialization and fellowship among the elderly. Bea Zinn said she participates in the program for two reasons: fellowship and food.
"Fellowship is almost the main reason," her friend Winnie McEndree quips.
Meals on Wheels delivers nutritious meals to homebound seniors 60 and older at all sites, and the Caregiver Mobile Meals program, in cooperation with United Way and Jackson County Memorial Hospital, delivers meals to any age homebound individual in Altus at a cost of $2 per meal. Through Congregate Meals and Meals on Wheels, 5,900 meals are served monthly.
Volunteerism with the organization includes the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) designed to enable individuals 55 and older to volunteer at 40 various workstations throughout Jackson, Greer and Harmon counties. Last year, 440 volunteers served 62,562 hours which, based on minimum wage plus fringe benefits calculates to volunteerism worth $386,633.16.
Southwest Transit, in conjunction with United Way, provides low-cost transportation to the public and contract services such as Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) and Soonerride. Transit, which provided 83,788 rides in 2003, is available five days a week in Altus, Eldorado, Hollis, Mangum and Granite. The fares, ranging from $1-$4.50, vary depending upon age and location. The Transit also offers rides to Lawton and back Monday, Wednesday and Friday twice a day. During weekends, which is the Transit's off days, individuals qualifying based on income are able to receive transportation through a contract with the local taxi service. Another transport program known as The Road to Work transports qualifying individuals without transportation to work.
Housing programs available to low-income people include HUD certified low-rent housing, low-interest loans through the home buyer program, improved home energy efficiency through weatherization, home buyer counseling, affordable homeownership through new home construction and off-farm labor housing.
A comprehensive child development class known as Head Start is offered to low-income or disabled 3- and 4-year-olds. This program, which served 290 children in 2003, does not solely focus on the child, but rather the entire family by providing activities that encourage parent involvement. There are seven centers throughout Jackson, Greer, Harmon and Beckham counties.
Communities of Promise provides youth development activities for youth up to 21 through the five promises -- caring adults, safe places, a healthy start, marketable skills and opportunities to serve. These ideals, according to Montgomery, provide a foundation for communities to coordinate, strengthen and develop resources and relationships for the success of youth. Jackson was designated a Community of Promise in 2003, and Greer county is currently working toward the designation. An example of the promises in action is a summer entrepreneurial camp for youth.
For more information about the Southwest Oklahoma Community Action Group or its services, contact the office at 482-5040.
Coming Tuesday, how the program helps its participants