Community Service Grants enable agencies to provide bright path for many in Alabama
Lesley Schaniel received a boost from the Community Action Agency of South Alabama to help her regain a footing in life.
When Lesley Schaniel walked through the doors of the Community Action Agency of South Alabama office in Daphne, she thought of herself as a “lost woman.”
Having no home, little education and three boys to rear, Schaniel came to the agency to fulfill a job-training requirement needed for her to continue receiving federal assistance with food and housing through the Alabama Department of Human Resources.
That day marked a turning point in her life, Schaniel said.
She found herself interviewing for a temporary 30-hour-per-week job, offered as part of an on-the-job-training program for recipients of federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
“I never worked in an office environment, and I was thinking, they’re not going to take me or let me stay,” Schaniel said. “But then they said, ‘When can you start?’”
Long before Schaniel entered the agency, a number of local, state and federal programs and activities were brought together to make this opportunity available. A key program was the Community Service Block Grant, administered at the state level by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.
This grant program provides significant support for the work of the Community Action Agency of South Alabama and 20 similar agencies located across the state. ADECA receives CSBG funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help low-income residents achieve self-sufficiency through a variety of programs to mitigate the effects of poverty and address potential barriers to success. Helping residents like Schaniel develop the skills needed for a job with a livable wage is the most effective route to self-sufficiency.
Agency Executive Director Cassandra Boykin said Schaniel was quiet and reserved when she started, but soon an outgoing, friendly personality emerged.
“She saw how giving back and assisting others can give you a positive outlook,” Boykin said.
Schaniel rotated around different departments as part of the job-training program, receiving guidance from several mentors in the agency. She also received clothing from the agency’s thrift store and learned professional and computer skills through classes offered by the agency.
“I started believing in myself simply because they believed in me,” Schaniel said.
One qualification she lacked was a high school diploma. With the encouragement of Boykin and other staffers, Schaniel began taking a GED preparation class and studying while at work. In April 2013, she passed the exam and earned a GED.
These days, Schaniel is off all federal housing and food assistance and is working full time as the agency’s receptionist, but her aspirations do not end there. She is enrolled in college and working toward earning an associate’s degree in business.
“I’m no longer lost,” she said. “I’m not sure exactly where I’m going or how fast I’ll get there; all I know for sure is I want to be better and smarter, and it’s all because of this one group of people in Daphne, Alabama.”
Community action agencies in Alabama offer a variety of services depending on the specific needs of the communities they serve. Services may include employment support, parenting classes, transitional housing, summer youth programs, financial literacy programs and emergency food and shelter.
In the 2012-2013 fiscal year, ADECA administered Community Service Block Grants totaling $11.7 million; during the same period, community action agencies served 256,591 Alabama residents who needed assistance and met the qualification requirements. More than 34,000 received food assistance, 21,000 received child-care assistance and more 12,000 received health-care assistance.