Anne Frank once said, “No one has ever become poor by giving.” The history of Community Action Agencies is embedded in this philosophy and the humanitarian principles that say we all have a responsibility for helping people overcome the obstacles that would prevent them from sharing in the benefits of living in the United States of America.
In 1964, the U.S. Congress passed the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA). This Act was meant to guarantee equal opportunity for everyone and for all practical purposes; this Act commenced the “War on Poverty”. More than 1,000 community-based organizations called Community Action Agencies (CAAs) were created across the country to:
- Coordinate federal funds and other resources
- Engage citizens to educate and train impoverished residents
- Help residents achieve economic stability and prosperity
The 29 Community Action Agencies that serve 83 Michigan counties have been successful at what they were originally charged to do. They have:
- Brought diverse resources and talents together
- Leveraged public and private supporters like Consumers Energy
- Enlisted volunteers
- Involved clients and non-service users alike in problem solving initiatives
The Bitter Truth in Michigan
One of the many challenges that CAA offices confront is the face of poverty in this country, and likewise Michigan, has changed quite a bit from the “Appalachian poor” to the “working poor”. And the face of poverty in each community is unique, which compounds the issue. Today:
- Nearly one out of every three families in the United States is considered to be “low income”
- Almost half of U.S. households live one crisis away from the breadline
- Of the 17 percent of Michigan residents who experience poverty in Michigan, over 23 percent of them are children.
I had an opportunity last year to spend some time at the Jackson CAA office. While I didn’t know what to expect, it didn’t take me long to realize that my understanding of those in need was skewed. The line was clear out the door and nearly every person standing in line had at least one child with him or her.
This was not an atypical day for the staff. The hours ticked by but the line remained steadfast. I witnessed middle class families having to ask for help for the first time. The fear and embarrassment that they relayed brought me to tears. One could never imagine having to literally scrape change together, walk many blocks to a bus stop (children in tow), wait for hours in line at the CAA office, only to be told that their services for the day have concluded before you ever get to the front of the line. And, sadly they had to get back on a bus with the realization that they had to do it all over again the next day. The despair these households face day in and day out is heart wrenching, but their courage and fortitude is inspiring.
Make a Difference with Consumers Energy
What the CAA staff members do on a daily basis is nothing short of heroic. It is through similar compassion and the guilt of having to turn people away due to lack of funds that an annual fundraiser was born. The CAAs developed the Walk for Warmth more than 25 years ago. It was organized to promote public awareness concerning low-income individuals and families experiencing home heat-related utility emergencies.
This is Consumers Energy’s fourth year participating in Walks for Warmth. Our employees will be supporting 34 Walks covering 35 counties. Last year, we collectively raised over $300,000 to support the cause.
The need for help this year is just as high as it was last year, even without the polar vortex. The needs of Michigan residents have become far greater than service agencies and churches can handle without additional financial resources such as the Walks for Warmth.
At Consumers Energy we continue to work towards leaving it better than we found it and caring for the Michigan communities we serve. I can’t think of a more impactful, or gratifying way than to move our feet to give others heat. I hope that you and your family and friends will decide to participate in at least one of the Walks throughout the state. I promise that you will instantly understand the “why” we do the Walks and you will leave feeling blessed for what you have.
I am thankful to work for a company that believes the same as Edward Everett Hale, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”
Carrie Schneider is the Community Programs Manager at Consumers Energy in Jackson, Mich. She has worked for Consumers Energy for almost 18 years. She volunteers for many organizations in her community including Women’s Leadership Council, Junior Achievement, United Way and Big Brothers Big Sisters. She is a graduate of Michigan State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology. Both she and her husband Steve are proud Jacksonians and are raising their three children (ages 17, 14 and 11) there. Carrie is passionate about servant leadership and is grateful to work for a company that supports her volunteerism.