There are, however, many success stories due to the stellar work of Blue Ridge Opportunity Commission and their utilization of President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding. Through this funding, usually called the Stimulus Funds, those who are unemployed, need emergency or foreclosure assistance or job training, have not been forgotten.
These stories are related first-hand by Jessica L. Prevette, Community Services Block Grant Program Director/Case Manager at the agency; Dare Stromer, Executive Director, and Jim Absher, Weatherization Program Director.
BROC’s three-county service area--Ashe, Alleghany and Wilkes—has some of the highest unemployment rates in North Carolina. American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding, along with the expansion of the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines, allowed the agency to touch families that normally wouldn’t have been eligible for services. The funding permitted the agency to assist these families through the already existent programs, filling in the gaps to keep them afloat until they could get back on their feet. The ex-factory workers (textiles, furniture industry, manufacturing and processing) really needed support while they enrolled in school to learn a new trade. This funding has also brought the communities closer together, says Prevette. “We understood their situations during these very trying times, and knew we had a mission that we strove to meet each and every day,” Prevette says.
Assisting a military family
A two-parent household came into the agency to apply for services through the Emergency Assistance Program, funded by ARRA. They were eligible for services. The mother was laid off from a local department store. Her husband was in the service, but was a full-time student. He only received base pay for returning to base one weekend per month. He received money from the GI Bill during the months he was in school. The mother never finished high school and was uncertain if a career path was available to her. The ARRA funding assisted this family in securing affordable housing, based on their income, and to avoided repossession of their car. The husband enrolled into the Basic Law Enforcement Training Program, and the mother has obtained her GED and enrolled at the Artistic Academy to become certified in cosmetology. They now have a brighter outlook on life and are constantly finding ways to “give back” to the community, says Prevette.
Assistance to begin a new career
Aided by the ARRA funding, BROC has offered three courses in Budgeting 101, issued nutritional information pamphlets including tips and tricks on smart shopping and simple nutritious recipes, made referrals to continuing education programs and/or financial aid advisors, and created a Success Center that houses the Career Clothing Closet. The Success Center has a computer work station, enabling participants to build a resume, complete job searches, and school assignments. The Success Center also provides the technology to support career growth. It houses a “Lending Library” that allows participants to check out items they may need in pursuing their goals such as, laptops, digital cameras, digital voice recorders, stethoscopes, and blood pressure cuffs, just to mention a few. The Career Clothing Closet provides business attire appropriate for interviews or for beginning a new career along with accessories such as brief cases, shoes, medical uniforms and jewelry. BROC has partnered with local businesses to solicit donations of new and gently used items for this project and has been successful.
BROC’s Weatherization Program received a referral from concerned neighbors about an elderly lady who lived near them. They knew she had no family to assist her, and they were worried due to the harsh winter they were having. The Weatherization Director went to the residence to assess the situation. Upon arriving he found an elderly lady in her eighties who had no heat in her home. In talking with her, he could see his breath. It was mid-day. He asked if he could perform an inspection on the house and aid her in getting heat. She was living in one room of the home with an electric space heater. All other rooms were closed off. Upon inspection, he found holes in the front door, ceiling and floor. There was no insulation in the home, and water was frozen in the pipes. They immediately completed an application and intervened to assist this elderly lady, who was in severe danger. They insulated the home, repaired the holes, replaced the door, and installed a monitor heater. They collaborated with a local church that purchased an oil tank, completed minor plumbing repairs and built a safer porch and ramp, as her steps were broken and unsafe.
BROC has received American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to provide free weatherization to approximately 190 homes of eligible, low-income applicants, in Wilkes, Ashe and Alleghany counties. The service will be provided to homeowners as well as those who rent. However, for renters, a landlord agreement must be signed. Also, a small contribution is required from the landlord. Priority is given to the needs of the elderly and disabled. Proof of income is required. Homeowners must provide a copy of their deed or landlords must provide two signed statements agreeing that the work can be completed. For more information, call Jim Absher, Weatherization Coordinator at (336) 667-7174, at the main Wilkes Office, Monday thru Friday 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Blue Ridge Opportunity Commission Inc. (BROC) is a 501 ©(3) non-profit organization established in 1966 as a Community Action Agency and is a partner agency of United Way of Wilkes County.
BROC serves Alleghany, Ashe and Wilkes counties, with a mission to provide assistance and services to low-income families, enabling them to move out of poverty. Services are provided to eligible area residents in Alleghany, Ashe and Wilkes counties in four major program areas - Head Start, Community Services Block Grant, Elderly Nutrition Program and Weatherization.
BROC’s mission is “To serve as an advocate with the community to seek out, identify and eliminate poverty in the service area. Provide opportunities for low-income persons of all ages in order to alleviate the causes and symptoms of poverty. Help people help themselves by providing services, advocacy, and support for persons so they can become self- sufficient, thus, improving the quality of their lives, and providing greater opportunities for their families.”
BROC’s main office is located at 710 Beech Street North Wilkesboro, NC 28659. For more information regarding services or eligibility, call 336 667 7174 or go to http://brocinc.com/index.html.