Expanded agency replaces defunct Community Action program

By Issa A. Mansaray | The AfricaPaper

Three years after the sudden demise of Community Action of Minneapolis, what promises to be a permanent replacement for the agency has been announced. The former Community Action Partnership of Suburban Hennepin County (CAPSH) has relaunched itself as Community Action Partnership of Hennepin County (CAP-HC), according to a May 1 press release, in order to provide comprehensive services to low-income residents of Minneapolis as well as other Hennepin County residents.

CAPSH, which served as a transition organization, was formerly recognized by Gov. Mark Dayton to serve as a Community Action agency providing services to Minneapolis residents after the Community Action of Minneapolis (CAM) collapsed in 2014. The newly formed Community Action Partnership of Hennepin County is to serve about 64,000 Hennepin County residents.

Background

In 2014, State authorities stormed the Community Action of Minneapolis (CAM) and confiscated its files, financial records, and computers. Authorities then closed the nonprofit organization’s downtown office, which had served the Minneapolis communities for years, sending its workers home unemployed. Low-income residents were left in limbo to seek help elsewhere for energy assistance and other services.

Leaders of the now defunct CAM misspent more than $800,000 on administrative costs and items unrelated to serving low-income residents, according to State officials. When residents were turned away without services in 2014, authorities scrambled to provide help during the transition. Most of the CAM’s functions were passed on to other Community Action agencies, including Community Action Partnership of Suburban Hennepin County.

New Challenge

Scott Zemke, executive director of CAP-HC, says in a press statement, “Regardless of this expanded footprint for our organization, we understand every community in the city and county has its own unique challenges, initiatives, needs and opportunities. It’s our job to work with individuals, local leaders and partner organizations to close gaps and increase the quality of life for all of our neighbors. We are ready and excited to meet these challenges to ensure that our neighbors can achieve stability and thrive.”

To understand how to meet these challenges, the needs of residents, and for CAP-HC to prepare services for Minneapolis, the organization engaged Wilder Research to assess the community’s need in Hennepin County. The research also addressed staff re-structuring and how to re-brand the agency.

Monitoring and evaluating CAP-HC’s activities was also addressed. Thus, the new agency expanded its board of directors to 21 members, including Minneapolis representation. CAP-HC’s board is now composed of three parts or layers of governance structure. One-thirds of its members are elected officials in Hennepin County, one-third are from the private sector, and another one-third is drawn from low-income communities and neighborhoods in Hennepin, according to the press release.

CAP-HC initiated what it described as a “one-time sub grant” aiming at building partnerships and addressing “basic and pressing community needs.” The grant committee, made up of volunteers from the CAP-HC board members, City of Minneapolis representatives, and community partners, reviewed and evaluated all applications. Through this process, CAP-HC granted more than $960,000 to Minneapolis nonprofit organizations to serve and meet the needs of low-income residents. The agency received about $4 million in grant requests.

“CAP-HC is committed to serving all of Hennepin County in a thoughtful and strategic manner, and to continue to develop our partnerships with existing Minneapolis organizations,” said Zemke.

To communicate directly with residents, CAP-HC hired an outreach coordinator to focus on the community, school events, jobs, and resource fairs in Minneapolis to help “identify ongoing resident needs.” CAP-HC is also hiring a community developer to help create partnerships focused on the city’s economic inequality, a problem that many think needs to be addressed.

In an interview with MSR, Zemke said his agency has learned about the service gaps in what residents need and how to work with many other community organizations to provide services in Hennepin County. CAP-HC also aims to provide programming that fills the gaps in services.

“Everybody who is doing this type of work wants to see that low-income communities thrive. Our goal is to ensure that the work we are doing is either filling a gap or is complementary to the work that is been done to meet the needs of low-income communities.”

As the Community Action Partnership of Hennepin County takes over the duties of the now defunct Community Action of Minneapolis to provide services, such as energy assistance, that affect every aspect of low-income residents’ lives, many don’t want to see a repetition of the failures of its predecessor. Zemke feels confident that his agency’s strong board membership and its commitment to transparency over the years will assure residents that its programs are sound and its funds are not being misspent. |TAP| Africa’s Newspaper of Record

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