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Central Missouri Community Action may not be a household name. But most area residents are familiar with some of the organization's services.

CMCA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization aimed at eliminating poverty, serves eight counties in Central Missouri — Audrain, Boone, Callaway, Cole, Cooper, Howard, Moniteau and Osage.

More than 50 years ago, the organization began as an employment program serving only Boone County. It came about after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act into law, creating social programs to promote health, education and the general welfare of the poor. But the regional need for community action spurred growth, and within a year, it expanded to include the current counties plus Randolph County, which later was redistricted to another provider.

Over the years, the number of programs the organization has offered has grown. Its largest program is Head Start — providing comprehensive child development services by seeing to youth medical, nutritional, emotional and social needs.

#jcmo Inside Business

This article appeared in the July 23, 2018, edition of #jcmo Inside Business. To view the full edition, click here.

The Foster Grandparents Program allows seniors to volunteer with children who have special needs to promote education and literacy. Its weatherization and assistance program reduces burdens on families by providing energy-efficient weatherization for their homes.

The organization uses federal Community Service Block Grants and community support to help clients with employment, education, housing, nutrition, emergency services, health and to better use available income.

Its mobility management project coordinates transportation across the region and helps people connect with transportation services. The micro-enterprise initiative develops — and if necessary, finances — small start-up businesses.

CMCA is one of multiple organizations in Jefferson City that is trying to make the community better, Executive Director Darin Preis said.

"The state Capitol is right here in our backyard," Preis said. "We have a serious commitment to making sure we get Jefferson City right and that we're responding to the community's needs."

Preis answered the following questions about CMCA:

Q. What are CMCA's missions and programs?

A. "We're one of 19 community action agencies across the state. Every county in Missouri is in a community action agency. Our mission is to empower individuals and families to achieve self-reliance. We're trying to move people out of poverty, and in many cases that means working with them one-on-one and trying to figure out what their goals are. We're also looking at the community dynamic — what policies and practices are holding people in place so they can't get out, whether that's transportation systems or housing or education. We really want to look for ways to connect the available resources (perhaps attract new resources) to change the dynamic on a community level and individual level."

Q. What are the challenges to change in Jefferson City?

A. "One of the things we're working on we're working with the city and other stakeholders on a poverty task force. It's really getting people together to talk about where the opportunities are. There is no blanket solution to poverty — although wages — if everyone was paid a living wage, we wouldn't have a poverty problem. But it's not realistic to see the minimum wage going up to $20 an hour.

"(We can overcome challenges) by working together with all the community stakeholders. We want to know what the business community thinks. We want to know what the faith community thinks — what the public sector thinks. And look for ways to coordinate existing resources or bring in new resources to figure that out. Typically, you've got to tackle it one thing at a time.

It might be that you want to start by looking at the transportation systems. We don't really have good transportation systems in any of the eight counties we serve — and Cole County is no exception. And that is one of the significant barriers for people. They can't get to their jobs consistently. Consistency is the key there. They can't get to health care. They can't get their kids to school. Whatever it might be.

"That's just one example. It may be a small thing some take for granted that can be a significant challenge for some families."

Q. Whom does CMCA serve in Jefferson City?

A. "Head Start is our largest program. We have several Head Start centers in Jefferson City. We have what we call Cole East by the school administration office. We have Capital Early Learning Center on the Lincoln University campus. A lot of people have heard of Head Start, they just may not recognize that it's connected with CMCA.

"Another example is our Utility Assistance Program. We're helping about 10,000 families a year with their utility bills — when they get shut off or when they just don't have enough to pay their full bill, we help out. A good 2,000 of those are right there in Jefferson City. Again, people wouldn't necessarily know that unless they had their utilities shut off. There's a wait list for all of our programs. Weatherization is a great program. It makes those bills lower. We go to individual homes, tape up the front door and blow air into the house to see where it comes out. It's not something that is real sexy. It's not something everyone is aware of. We're there in every community in Jefferson City trying to help people decrease their cost of living.

"The way we look at programs and services are there are basic needs programs, for people who are just trying to survive. There are affordable housing issues. Then, there are more-impactful strategies, like Head Start, where we're trying to get kids ready for school and we're working with adults to make sure the home environment is stable and supportive of kids' education. Then, you move into home ownership, and ultimately if somebody wants to own a small business.

"There are very few new jobs out there, but the Women's Business Center, with funding from the Small Business Administration, helps train, coach and prepare women to get a small business started. It's with the idea that we have to be involved in economic development."

Q. How is CMCA funded?

A. "About 90 percent of what we do is federal funding. A lot of it comes through the state Department of Social Services. Some of it, like Head Start, comes directly from Washington, D.C. Most of it requires matching funds of some kinds. That's where we turn to the community. We are a privately funded nonprofit corporation.

"I've heard people make the mistake of thinking we're a government entity, and we're not. We're a private nonprofit, and that's where local support is so important. The Women's Business Center is a one-to-one match, so every dollar of federal money we bring in, we have to match locally. We're getting lots of support from local banks. They're using that toward their Community Reinvestment Act requirements. People who want to see small businesses prosper, particularly businesswomen, commonly contribute to the CMCA."

(Note: The Community Reinvestment Act, passed in 1977, is intended to encourage banks to meet borrowers' needs by reducing discriminatory credit practices against low-income neighborhoods.)

Q. What is your biggest fundraiser?

A. "One is the Super Gala, held on May 10 — half of that is going to support the matching requirement for the Women's Business Center."

Q. What percentage of donations stay local?

A. "If somebody lives in Jefferson City and gives a donation to us, we keep it in Jefferson City. We're really committed to keeping the funding where it originated. That's why people give. We want to respect that and honor that. We keep it where it comes from."

Q. Is there access to your financial statements online?

A. "I believe our audit is provided online. We want our books to be open. People can look at our 990s (federal tax returns)."

(Note: The organization's financial reports are included online in a file called "Gratitude Reports.")

Q. Are all donations tax-deductible?

A. "As a nonprofit, donations can be considered deductible, but people need to talk to their tax advisers to see what their particular circumstances are. It should be deductible."

Q. How is your administration financed?

A. "Our admin rate is about 9 percent. We have 230 employees in eight counties. We have 20 Head Start facilities. We have a Family Resource Center in each of those eight counties. We have a fair amount of overhead. Every local dollar gets leveraged against these federal dollars we're bringing in. I like to think we're maximizing those local contributions.

"We've got about 30 different grants and contracts. There's a strong demand for our services. There's still about 13 percent poverty in Cole County. That's a lot of people struggling."

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