SIDNEY — Officials of Bridges Community Action Partnership were in Sidney, recently, to report the 2017 actitivies and achievements of the organization.
Bridges serves clients in Delaware, Madison, Union, Champaign, Logan and Shelby counties. Executive Director Rochelle Twining reported that “this year, we turned our work to strengthen our organization, so that we may prepare for the challenges and changes of the ever-changing face of poverty.”
During 2017, Bridges developed a new strategic plan, mission, vision and values. It created two additional staff positions and accepted the donation by Jean and Don Kemp of a house in Shelby County to serve as a second mini-shelter.
In addition, the organization began a new program, “Getting Ahead in a Just Getting By World,” in February 2017.
Twining and other Bridges staff members provided statistics about their programs and the people they serve overall and in each county.
“Twice as many families enter poverty episodically as those who live consistently below the poverty level,” Twining reported. “Episodic poverty is defined as a family who is below the poverty level for more than two months in a three-year period.
“The No. 1 question in 2017 was, ‘With unemployment at record lows and employers unable to find employees, where is the disconnect?’”
She noted that as people move out of poverty, they hit what is known as a benefits cliff.
“By increasing their wages, hours or skills, they may lose income supports such as food stamps, housing subsidies, Medicaid or child care support,” she said. “The result is a negative consequence of working hard, but having less. For a wage increase of $1 per hour, or $2,080 per year, a family of four could lose their food stamps benefit of approximately $400 a month, so an earned raise results in a net loss of income support for base needs of $2,720.”
She added that education is often touted as a way out of poverty, but that Ohio schools now offer less than half the needs-based support they offered 10 years ago.
“Tuition costs have increased 27.5 percent, while state support for low- and middle-income students has dropped 14.2 percent in that time,” Twining said.
She also reported that more than 14,000 children in Ohio are in foster care and that nearly half of the children newly admitted to foster care are admitted because their parents are addicted to drugs.
“Ohio is second in the nation in opioid-related deaths, meaning that chldren in foster care may become the permanent charges of grandparents, who may be lunged into poverty and lose their own life savings,” Twining said.
Statistics particular to Shelby County were shared during the meeting, which was attended by representatives of local government and nonprofit, social service agencies.
In Shelby County, the poverty rate in 2016, the latest year for which figures are available, is 9.4 percent. That is well below the state rate of 15.9 percent. It equates in Shelby County to 4,490 people. Of those, Bridges programs served 3,376, about 75 percent, in 2017.
Forty percent of the people served were under 18. Those 55 or older accounted for 20 percent of those served. Six percent were over 70. Ninety percent were white; 9 percent were black. High school graduates accounted for 58 percent; college graduates, 5 percent.
The family make-up of clients was reported as household characteristics. Single adults accounted for most of the services, 40 percent. Single female heads of households came in at 28 percent; single male heads of households, at 3 percent; two-parent households, at 16 percent; and other family structures, at 13 percent.
More than half of service recipients were employed: 56 percent. Just 1 percent were unemployed. Thirty-two percent get Social Security and/or pension benefits. Disability compensation goes to 15 percent of Bridges’ Shelby County clients.
Twining reported that 72 percent of clients have an income level that is less than the income level determined by the government to mark the federal poverty level. Those with incomes of less than 150 percent of that amount number 26 percent. Those with incomes less than 200 percent account for 6 percent.
The average client benefit annually in all six counties served by Bridges is $607.
Organization volunteers assist area residents with income tax form-preparation each year. In 2017, 52 returns were prepared for Shelby Countians, saving them $13,520 in tax-preparation fees.
Local Bridges staff and volunteers during 2017 particpated in Kids Around the Square, Senior Day at the Shelby County Fair, Community Connections Expo, Rock the Difference, the Alpha Center open house, the Point in Time homeless count, Kiwanis Pancake Day, Relay for Life and the Community Thanksgiving Dinner.
They made presentations at FISH, Samaritan House and the Shelby County Jail.
Bridges staff are certified family development specialists and are certified to administer programs of Rapid Rehousing of Ohio programs. They also are certified as volunteer income tax assistants and marketplace counselors for the Affordable Health Care act. Last year, some of them participated in educational workshops to increase their understanding of Social Security, empathetic communication and mental health bipolar issues.
The organization reported 2017 revenue of $4,838,809 and expenses of $4,754,448. A survey of their clients told them that most clients prefer to be contacted by telephone; mail came in second; text showed up on surveys mostly from Shelby and Logan counties.
“Word of mouth and agency referrals are stil how most clients learn of our services,” according to the survey.
It showed that housing and rent assistance is the largest unmet need. Food was recorded as the second-highest need.
“Transportation continues to be an issue, interestingly, less so in Shelby than our other counties,” Twining said. Also noteworthy were the high marks the agency received for customer service.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.