Decatur City Council Puts CDBG Funds in CAPNA’s Hands for COVID Relief

Photo credit: Gabby K from Pexels

The Decatur City Council is considering which agencies will benefit from the latest round of federal COVID-19 grant funding. Partnership Board member and Decatur Community Development Manager Allen Stover recently asked the City Council to approve a COVID-19 relief spending plan.

The funding received for the relief plan comes through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. The Partnership is recommended to receive $60,972 for rental and utility assistance.

During this already stressful time, having to worry about keeping a safe place to live is scary and overwhelming. 

Candy Ayers, Director of Homeownership

About how the funds will be used, Director of Homeownership Candy Ayers said, “The funds we receive will allow us to continue the much-needed rental and utility assistance in the city of Decatur.  Many Decatur citizens have lost their jobs or had hours reduced due to COVID-19 either for safety, quarantine or from contracting the virus.  During this already stressful time, having to worry about keeping a safe place to live is scary and overwhelming.  Many have never experienced the fear of homelessness. Those who did have savings have used it up because of being out of work so long.  Those who had unemployment benefits have exhausted those funds and now all of these issues put them behind on rent.  On behalf of the recipients of these funds, I thank the city of Decatur for caring for those who need a hand up in this vulnerable time.

Partnership CEO Tim Thrasher concluded, “We are especially grateful for our partnership with the City of Decatur in supporting rental assistance through Community Development Block Grant resources which help us carry out our mission of changing lives, helping people and building better communities across North Alabama.

Long Distance Deliveries

Head Start Teachers Reach Out While Social Distancing

Teachers Sheri Phillips and Lynn Justice are taking the separation from their Scottsboro Head Start students one day at a time. Although schools in Alabama are now closed for the remainder of the year, staff are working behind the scenes to ensure their families are taken care of.

“We had a really good day yesterday delivering  care packages and Easter Baskets to all of our children.  We kept a safe distance with the children and families, which was a challenge because they wanted hugs and so did we.”

Like all Head Start classrooms, Partnership staff form lasting relationships with their families.  While they are unable to teach the children in a traditional sense, Sheri and Lynn have taken advantage of the limited personal time with their students during care package deliveries. They recently used social distancing during deliveries as a teachable moment by discussing the importance of staying safe and well, what social distancing means, and why hugs are off limits, at least for the time being.

At each family’s home, Sheri and Lynn have been greeted with excited children who were promised “a million hugs” once the COVID-19 pandemic is over and staff and children are reunited. Lynn said of one delivery, “We put the package on the porch, knocked, and quickly stepped back from the door.  We heard (the student) coming to the door so we waited in the yard. When he opened the door and saw his surprises on the porch he flung the door open and said, “Oh my goodness!  Wow!  Look, Mommy!” Instead of the usual hug, he waved and yelled to his teachers, “Hey, Ms. Lynn! Hey, Mrs. Sheri! I love you, Ms. Lynn. I miss you!  I love you, Mrs. Sheri. I miss you!  Thank you for my presents!”

While visits with families are from a safe distance, the staff continue to value the strong bonds they have built with their families throughout the school year. Teacher Lynn Justice summed up the visits by saying, “If I do not do anything else this year my heart is full, I would not trade those few minutes for anything.” 

Modeling the Way: Birth to Pre-K

“Studies show that without high quality childcare programs are nothing more than glorified babysitters. This is taxpayer money well-spent.” – Sen. Arthur Orr (R), Decatur

Members of the Decatur-Morgan County legislative delegation were recently treated to a tour of the new Vivian Conatser-Turner Early Learning Center (VCT ELC) to see how a new model for early childhood education is being implemented in Decatur.

The VCT ELC houses both Head Start and state Pre-K classrooms under the same roof. And recently the center expanded its services with additional Early Head Start classrooms to serve children birth to 3 plus pregnant women. The site will be able to provide continual early learning services to children from birth to four years, allowing parents to keep their young children enrolled at one location until they are eligible for kindergarten.

Kim Dodd, Director of Children’s Services for the Partnership, explained that the Infant/Toddler classrooms for children birth to three provides the same services with mixed funding. “The focus is on intentional play through developmentally appropriate practices.”

Secretary Jeana Ross of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education said, “This is the perfect example to create the birth to school continuum. With developmentally appropriate practices and high-quality experiences, this is the best early care program. A vision has come to fruition.”

Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and Rep. Parker Moore (R-Decatur) help preschool students at Vivian Conatser-Turner build a tower with foam bricks during a tour of the new facility.

In his remarks, Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) highlighted the importance of high-quality early childcare. “Studies show that without high-quality childcare programs are nothing more than glorified babysitters. This is taxpayer money well-spent. We have miles to go but we are making good progress.”

As the liaison for the Vivian Conatser-Turner endowment that funded the Early Learning Center bearing the same name, Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur), acknowledged the role that high-quality childcare has in working families. “Childcare is a really big component to fulfilling our workforce needs.”

Take a virtual tour of the Vivian Conatser-Turner Early Learning Center here:

To learn more about the Vivian Conatser-Turner Early Learning Center, contact Center Director Heather Kennedy at heather.kennedy@capna.org or 256-580-5450.

Endowment Brings New Preschool to Decatur’s Beltline

Corporate scholarships can pave the way for employees to secure high-quality childcare

Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur and Partnership CEO Tim Thrasher toured the Vivian Conatser-Turner Early Learning Center as renovations are being completed for an August 2019 opening.

Thanks to an endowment awarded to Community Action Partnership of North Alabama (the Partnership), with the help of Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, families of preschool children in Decatur have more options for local early childhood education. The new Vivian Conatser-Turner Early Learning Center is set to open this fall with space for three Infant/Toddler classrooms for children birth to age three, one Head Start classroom for children ages three and four, and one state Pre-K classroom for four-year-olds. During a walk-through of the nearly-complete facility with Partnership CEO Tim Thrasher, Collins reflected on how the decision by the Women’s Leadership Council to fund the project will leave its footprint on local children. “All of the women that worked so hard in the Women’s Leadership Council to promote important women’s and children’s issues will be so excited that the Vivian Conatser-Turner Early Learning Center will be changing the lives of our children forever.”

All of the women that worked so hard in the Women’s Leadership Council to promote important women’s and children’s issues will be so excited that the Vivian Conatser-Turner Early Learning Center will be changing the lives of our children forever.

Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur

Although the Partnership has been serving North Alabama’s preschool children for 50 years, the Vivian Conatser-Turner Early Learning Center provides a new opportunity for employees of local corporations.   Building on its extensive knowledge and experience serving preschoolers, the Partnership is venturing out into the private for-fee early childhood sector for its Infant/Toddler classrooms. 

In response to the challenges many working families face in finding quality care for their infants and toddlers, the Partnership is offering scholarship opportunities to local corporations as a benefit for their employees’ preschool-age children.  Corporate-funded childcare scholarships provide families the peace of mind of high-quality early care for their children while they are at work. Plus, corporations are able to provide a benefit to their employees that allows them to minimize absences often associated with unreliable childcare.  

Corporations interested in investing in their employees or sponsoring working parents in the community by investing in childcare with scholarships for Infant/Toddler care can contact Children’s Services director Kim Dodd at 256-260-3156 (kim.dodd@capna.org), Partnership Development Manager Rebecca Bibb at 256-260-3172 (rebecca.bibb@capna.org) or Center Director Heather Kennedy (heather.kennedy@capna.org).

 

Christmas Comes Early with a New Partnership

A new partnership with Christmas Charities Year Round helps connect eligible families to available services.

Christmas Charities Year Round Executive Director Kristin Hays talks about her agency’s programs and mission with Partnership CEO Tim Thrasher (left), Allison Speegle (Partnership Administration), and Jessica Scott (Partnership Family Services).

Partnerships are defined as a commitment by at least two parties who share the benefits of business operations. The new partnership between Community Action Partnership of North Alabama (The Partnership) and Christmas Charities Year Round (CCYR) of Huntsville is the perfect representation of such a relationship.

The two agencies now share office space at the new CCYR location on Leeman Ferry Road in Huntsville. CCYR Executive Director Kristin Hays offered to spend some time with The Partnership’s CEO Tim Thrasher to give some perspective of how the new partnership is so important to the Huntsville-area families served by both agencies.

All services provided by CCYR are free in the same way that the early childhood services at The Partnership are provided at no cost to enrolled families. CCYR serves the Huntsville area with a mobile closet, with regular visits to local schools. Since the establishment of the partnership between the two agencies, CCYR has committed to serving Head Start classrooms located at the UAH center one day a month. Families are able to receive quality clothing at no cost. In turn, Partnership employees help support CCYR with the demands of maintaining programs and referring families for services.

The Mobile Closet at Christmas Charities Year Round

Partnership Family Engagement staff member Jessica Scott said of the new partnership, “We can refer our families to Christmas Charities for services right here. They may have an appointment with them at 7:30 a.m. and then with us at 8:00 a.m. They don’t have to go anywhere else. It’s so awesome, you guys.” And because of the new partnership, Jessica was connected with HEALS, Inc. to conduct health screenings on enrolled children in Huntsville-area Head Start classrooms.

After only two months in their new location, both Christmas Charities Year Round and the five-member Partnership Family Engagement staff have settled in and focused their collective efforts on serving the families of Huntsville and Madison County. With new partnerships being established regularly by both non-profit agencies, families with low incomes are being connected to more programs and services than ever before. And with each family served, the Partnership’s mission to reduce or eliminated the causes and consequences of poverty is met.

Myth Busters: Affordable Housing

Partnership Provides Community Lunch and Learn About Affordable Housing

The Partnership’s Real Estate Development team, along with other Housing Business Unit staff members, welcomed about 40 local community leaders and staff to a Lunch and Learn at the Partnership’s Central Office location in Decatur with the purpose of helping to alleviate confusion often associated with the term “affordable housing.”

As many in the affordable housing industry have already witnessed, there is a misconception that “affordable housing” equals “public housing”. And those misconceptions are full of negative images related to so-called government housing. To play the role of Myth Buster, The Partnership’s Real Estate Development team decided to bring the information to the people and let those in the local area see for themselves how Community Action and its Housing Business Unit are serving low-income communities with safe and affordable housing that is comparable in quality to most higher income developments.

Wally Terry, Director of Development for the City of Decatur

“Research shows that incomes do increase for people who have stable housing. We do verify incomes annually, but residents do not have to move out if they go above the 60% AMI after they are approved to move in.”

Dave Truitt, Director of Real Estate Development on whether residents are forced out of their homes if their incomes increase

Director of Real Estate Development Dave Truitt led the hour-long learning session, focusing on what affordable housing is and how the Partnership plays a vital role in the affordable housing market across Alabama and other southeastern states. Session attendees learned that Community Action Partnership of North Alabama is the largest non-profit affordable housing developer in the state of Alabama with a portfolio of 1710 units in Alabama, South Carolina, and North Carolina. A fact unknown by even those with extensive knowledge of the housing and community development industries.

“It’s going to take all of us to educate the community, and it is going to take the community to drive it home.”

Wally Terry, Development Director for the City of Decatur

At the conclusion of the session, Decatur City’s Development Director Wally Terry pointed out the importance of educating the community of not only the need for safe, affordable housing but also the advantages. “It’s going to take all of us to educate the community, and it is going to take the community to drive it home.”

Labor of Love Opens In Marshall County

Albertville Head Start Early Learning Center Prepares for 2019-2020 Early Childhood Recruiting Season

Recruitment season for 2019-20 has begun for The Partnership’s Children’s Services staff.  And the new Albertville site is ready for the applications from local families looking for a high-quality center to serve their preschoolers.  The Albertville site is located at 908 Cooley Street in Albertville just off of U.S. Highway 431.  The site was acquired to consolidate other locations in Marshall County that were in structures considered less than ideal for housing preschool children, including mobile facilities or dated buildings in need of extensive upgrades.

Classroom Specialist Letha Cannon is based at the Albertville site and supervises classroom staff for four classrooms: one Early Head Start classroom that serves children birth to three years of age, plus pregnant women, and three preschool Head Start classrooms that serve children ages three to five, or up to eligibility for kindergarten.

We provide that comprehensive program to make sure that we are supporting the parent and training for them and the children so that we can prepare them to become school-ready with skills for school and skills for life.

-Letha Cannon, Albertville Children’s Services Classroom Specialist

In 2018, The Partnership served more than 2,500 children in 16 counties across North Alabama in a variety of early childhood programs.  Early Head Start serves children birth to three years, plus pregnant women.  Preschool Head Start serves children ages three to five, up to eligibility for kindergarten.  Home Visiting programs include Early Head Start Home Visiting and First Teacher Programs. These programs serve families in their homes through qualified staff with extensive early childhood education backgrounds.  And Child Care Partnerships are provided through collaborative efforts between The Partnership and local child care providers.

Applications for Partnership early childhood education programs may be started online with the selection of program and location preferences .  Once the pre-application has been submitted, families are contacted by Family Engagement staff to complete the application in person.  Each applicant follows the same intake process and selection is made based on a points system for prioritization. 

To find our Early Head Start or Head Start location nearest you visit us online at www.capna.org and click your county of residence.

The Village at Hixon Pond Is a Dixieland Delight

Fort Payne community welcomes a new affordable housing development to the area

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On a crisp January day, the community of Fort Payne joined 19 other counties in Alabama as home to high-quality housing that is affordable for its residents and provided through Community Action Partnership of North Alabama’s Housing Business Unit.  Fort Payne is a small town of approximately 15,000 residents with a median family income of about $45,000 per year, nearly 20% below the state average and more than 32% below the national average.

Thanks to a partnership with the City of Fort Payne, led by Mayor Larry Chesser, citizens of DeKalb County, Alabama, now have a 56-unit multi-family development to call their own.  During the property’s grand opening ceremony, Mayor Chesser commented, “It’s something we’ve needed in Fort Payne.  We’re looking forward to the next one,” referring to discussions about a complementary development for seniors nearby.

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Guests at the event included development partner Fred Bennett of The Bennett Group, Fort Payne Chamber of Commerce members, representatives from Regions Bank and architects McKean & Associates, property residents, and Partnership employees from the Children’s Services program.  Also on hand to offer support was retired Partnership CEO Michael Tubbs, who was at the helm at the planning and construction phases of The Village at Hixon Pond.

The first time I saw this property it was a slope and a pond, and I didn’t think for the world we’d be able to put 56 two- and three-bedroom units up here.  The thing I’ve noticed with the units the company has across the state is that they start out as apartments but end up as a home and that’s the difference.  We’re not just creating community but creating a home for the people who live here. 

-Michael Tubbs, retired Partnership CEO

Those who joined Mayor Chesser and Michael Tubbs as speakers at the Hixon Pond Grand Opening event included current Partnership CEO Tim Thrasher, development partner Fred Bennett,  and Hixon Pond residents Bonita Eileen and April Jelks.

The Partnership’s housing portfolio includes affordable housing properties all across the state of Alabama plus developments in North and South Carolina totaling more than 1,700 units of single family, multi-family, and senior housing.  Each development undergoes a rigorous, competitive application process with the Alabama Housing Finance Authority before being awarded.  According to AHFA’s website, funds are limited and each project is prioritized using a system for determining which projects will receive HOME funds and Housing Credits.

Construction has begun for the 2017 AHFA-awarded property in St. Clair County (AL) with The Village at Rock Springs in Moody.  Cullman County (AL) will become The Partnership’s next affordable housing site as the 2018 property awarded by AHFA once construction begins on The Village at Bridge Creek.

Burn Less, Save More

Senior Volunteers Learn Energy Saving Tips for the New Year

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The Partnership’s Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions kicked off the new year with a Home Energy Saving Workshop.  The TVA Energy Right Solutions workshop, presented by Director of Homeownership Candy Ayers and Energy Director Angela Ingram, offered the volunteers in attendance ways to be smarter about how they use energy.

Cost savings measures in the workshop ran the gamut from updating lighting to LED bulbs to sealing leaks and upgrading to appliances with higher Energy Star efficiency ratings.  Candy and Angela followed-up the presentation with a Q&A with volunteers.  Each attendee who completed a provided survey received a Home Energy starter kit with energy-saving products such as caulk, weather stripping, foam sealant, and LED bulbs.

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Senior Programs volunteers are income-eligible and most are on a fixed monthly income.  All volunteers receive a tax-free stipend to supplement their incomes.  Thanks to the tips presented to the group, the volunteers walked away with some valuable money-saving strategies for making the most of the energy they use while also being economically friendly.

To learn more about the Home Energy Workshops, please contact The Partnership’s Director of Homeownership Services Candy Ayers or Energy Director Angela Ingram.

Going Strong

Alabama House Representative Terri Collins was on hand at The Partnership to spread good cheer just before the Christmas holidays.  Rep. Collins presented Partnership CEO Tim Thrasher and Partnership pre-K liaison Dee Ard with a check for more than $10,000 from the Starting Strong funding for Morgan County Pre-K classrooms.

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Starting Strong is a partnership that began more than eight years ago among multiple agencies including Community Action Partnership of North Alabama, Decatur-Morgan Chamber of Commerce, the Decatur-Morgan County Minority Development Association, United Way of Morgan County, the City of Decatur, Morgan County Schools, Decatur City Schools, Hartselle City Schools, local businesses, and community leaders.

According to The Partnership’s Pre-K liaison Dee Ard, the goal of the Starting Strong initiative was to raise quality in pre-k classrooms across Morgan County no matter where they were housed, including schools, churches, private care centers, Head Start facilities, and non-profits.

Funds raised for Starting Strong have supported new classrooms with supplies,  materials, and training opportunities.  Supporting agencies have been able to work collaboratively to support pre-k in Morgan through the initiative.  Ard said of the effort, “It was a big deal to get all of these (agencies) to come together at the table.”  The current number of pre-k classrooms that have resulted from the Starting Strong Pre-K initiative is now up to 40 classrooms with more than 700 children enrolled.