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Worcester Community Action Council’s New Resiliency Center Seeks to Advance Economic Mobility for All

Monday, March 7, 2022

Economic opportunity is out of reach for far too many individuals and households in the Commonwealth.  Our economy is off tilt with its widening wealth gap and persistent poverty rate (22% in Worcester). Worse, since climbing out of poverty is such a difficult task—particularly for parents facing the high cost of childcare and other basic expenses—poverty can impact families for generations. 

Fortunately, the Worcester Community Action Council (WCAC) is here to help. 

Founded in 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, WCAC is one of several winners of the United Way of Central Massachusetts recent Community Challenge. The resulting funds are supporting the newly created role of Cliff Effect Coach at the agency, and further enabling the development of WCAC’s new Resiliency Center—an especially timely development, says WCAC Executive Director Marybeth Campbell.

“Worcester and the surrounding area where WCAC provides services is experiencing an incredible surge of growth and prosperity, while also facing widening wealth, access and opportunity gaps for far too many people.”  says Campbell. “WCAC was created decades ago during  the War on Poverty, but in more recent years it can often seem that we are fighting a war against the poor.”

Government support, while critical to deliver core services, can also raise barriers for those seeking services and may stymie innovative and flexible programs with lower barriers to entry, says Campbell. This is why support from funders such as the United Way’s Community Challenge grant create greater opportunity to explore strategies that reach beyond stabilizing a household and focus on sustainable approaches to lifting people out of poverty. 

Changing financial cliffs into off-ramps, with help from coaches

For working parents, career advancement opportunities and increases in wages can sometimes work against them. A modest salary bump can jeopardize a family’s eligibility for food, housing, and childcare assistance, and create a far worse situation. Parents are forced to choose between sustaining basic needs and advancing their career. Young children, lacking high-quality early learning and care, often pay the price.

WCAC aims to transform this sudden financial and benefit cliff into an on-ramp towards self-sufficiency by matching clients with financial and “cliff effect” coaches. 

The coaches will help individuals predict and navigate benefit eligibility, prepare for financial needs, including housing, childcare, and other necessities, and develop career plans through training and education opportunities that will help to reduce the fear that accepting a job or promotion will lead to greater loss of security. WCAC will also work to help employers understand the effect of small salary increases, and to encourage job training that helps staff leap to higher pay grades. 

Additionally, WCAC is advocating for legislation that would allow Earned Income Tax Credits and Child Tax Credits to close the gaps for families receiving public assistance. 

“WCAC brings a mindset to our work that one day the need for our programs will be obsolete, but we have a long way to go before that vision is realized”

WCAC programs such as Fuel Assistance bring relief to tens of thousands of clients annually, but eliminating systemic poverty requires systemic change and dogged persistence, which is why the Resiliency Center is helping to position the agency as a resource for financial empowerment and self-sufficiency. 

“Money is not the only tool we can use to solve poverty. We need strong policy that eliminates barriers to entry and widens access to opportunity equitably,” says Campbell, which is why WCAC and likeminded organizations like Edward Street work so hard to raise the voices of the underserved with local leaders and policymakers.

“It’s imperative that we keep banging that drum, and to continue being at the table when policies are discussed,” says Ellen Ganley, WCAC Director of Policy and Public Affairs.

Perhaps someday, even the new Resiliency Center will become a thing of the past—that’s the goal anyway. Says Campbell, “We wake up every day hoping that one day our services will no longer be needed. We have a mindset that the need for our programs and services will become obsolete.  We have a long way to go but we are making strong steps in the right direction.”

To access Worcester Community Action Council support services, including fuel assistance, rental assistance, Head Start, job training, and financial coaching, visit www.wcac.net/contact-form.

Edward Street is proud to support early childhood success through partnerships with organizations such as the Worcester Community Action Council. To learn more, follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn.