In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, it is fitting to recognize community improvements that were made possible by Central Missouri Community Action. Since 1965, CMCA has strived to organize local groups to advocate and work toward common community goals including ridding our community of poverty.
In Missouri, there are 19 community action associations that work to improve their communities through similar programming. The central division is made up of eight Missouri counties. Throughout its years of existence, the association began to move more toward project management once strong partnerships were created with area services and when federal funding became available. But Executive Director Darin Pries came on board eight years ago, and he is determined to move CMCA’s goals back to its original missions.
“We’ve been slowly reconnecting with our roots and community organizing because we believe that’s the most important way to make lasting change instead of focusing on an immediate change,” he says.
To ensure the correct programming and funding are taking place, CMCA completes a community assessment every three years, the next of which will be completed this year. In addition to the assessment, focus groups are created to discuss awareness of services and locate gaps in the system to improve central Missouri.
“I believe Darin has put together an incredible staff to make a difference for our communities,” says Karen Miller, Boone County CMCA board member. “He is always developing better ways to provide services and reward staff the perfect combination of elements to get the biggest bang for the buck.”
Putting programs in motion
CMCA prides itself on successful programs, such as Head Start and Early Head Start. Out of all the programs CMCA works on, these are the largest.
“We focus on quality classroom intervention,” Pries says. “There’s also a big emphasis put on families to make sure the family dynamic matches the classroom and improves as they move into their K-12 years. Last year, CMCA did a 12-week course that focused on the components of photography. There was a different topic assigned each week, such as hunger, safety and schools. We gave each child a camera to see the community through their eyes, and once the course was completed, the participants got to keep their cameras.”
In addition to classroom enrichment, Head Start provides a holistic approach to making sure kids are ready for their school years. This includes physicals and immunizations, vision and dental health, employment programs for parents, etc.
An additional project that made its debut last year was a micro-lending initiative. Columbia offers opportunities for startup and innovative businesses, and CMCA believes this resource should be available regardless of economic status. The micro-lending initiative was created to offer financial opportunities for individuals who were unable to receive loans or never had a bank account.
The micro-lending program incorporates interested individuals into a classroom setting where they learn and understand the process of starting a business. After that, they can create a market analysis and business plan to apply for a $5,000 to $10,000 startup loan.
“So far, we’ve had 47 people take the class,” Pries says. “Out of those people, two have started their own businesses, and two nonprofits have been created.”
By charging interest on the loans, the program will eventually become self-sustaining.
“I think it is important to diversify the organization’s funding streams,” Jason Ramsey, Boone County CMCA board member, says. “As we saw last year, reliance on federal funding can change at a moment’s notice, thereby cutting services to people who need them the most.”
Support within the community
The best way to support Central Missouri Community Action is to make a donation. Fundraising is an important aspect to continuing these services within Boone County. Annual fundraisers, such as the barbecue competition set to take place at the Isle of Capri in June, help raise money and awareness for the organization.
According to Pries, it’s the community that keeps CMCA successful after all these years. Central Missouri has the resources and nonprofit partners to focus on new things and create a stronger community.
Can’t make a donation but would love to share your support? Contact volunteer coordinator Kelley Lucero at 573- 443-8706, ext. 1916.