Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Robert Benes
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

May is Community Action Month


May is Community Action month as proclaimed by Governor Dayton on April 24. Although many people are familiar with their local Community Action Agency by the programs they operate such as Energy Assistance, Weatherization, Head Start or Homeless Prevention, most are not aware of the vastness of the Community Action network throughout the county, the state or even their local agency.

Since 1965, Lakes and Pines Community Action Council has served Carlton and Pine Counties along with five other counties in East Central Minnesota. Lakes and Pines is one of 24 Community Action Agencies across the state and 2,000 across the country. Every county in Minnesota and essentially every county throughout the country is covered by a Community Action Agency.

The designation of coverage by county is essential because it is central to what Community Action Agencies are at their very core. Established in the mid and late 1960s these local agencies were established to fight the “root causes of poverty.” The agencies were established locally with the realization that poverty looks different and has different causes in Moose Lake, Minnesota than it does in Washington, D.C. or Detroit or Chicago or even St. Paul. The belief at the time was, and remains so today, that in order to address the issue of poverty it must be met where it is at: local solutions meeting local needs.

To ensure this is the case, Lakes and Pines conducts regular and thorough community assessments to evaluate where there are gaps in local services and where the greatest needs are for those who are struggling economically. One of the reasons for the longevity of Lakes and Pines and Community Action is that it is ever-changing. As communities grow and develop and begin to meet local needs, Community Action will move on to another identified need or gap. The theme of self-reliance on the community level, as well as the individual level, is a core value of Community Action. The agency is not there to do it for communities or individuals who may access services, but to assist both in doing it for themselves. Thus, you will find very little duplication of services between Lakes and Pines and other community service providers. Lakes and Pines delivers services other agencies can’t or won’t and will back away from services as other groups or agencies take on the role. Similarly on the individual level, Lakes and Pines will help families or individuals with the emphasis of backing away and gathering resources, allowing the families to prosper on their own.

The second essential aspect of assuring Community Action Agencies remain focused on meeting local needs and remaining local agencies is in their very structure. Each Community Action Agency in Minnesota is a private nonprofit entity, incorporated in the local community it serves and is governed by a tripartite board. The three sectors represented on the board are local elected officials, individuals who are or have experienced poverty elected from those receiving services to represent them and the third sector made up of private individuals representing groups or skills sets needed by a high functioning board.

Although by nature every Community Action Agency is very different, some common traits are their flexibility, agility and readiness to meet emerging needs. As an example, while Lakes and Pines offers long standing programs like Energy Assistance and Head Start, they were in the recent past ready to step up in two local floods, a local fire, the housing crisis, ARRA and the propane crisis.

Robert Benes is the Executive Director of Lakes & Pines CAC, Inc.


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