(Riverton, WY) At their February meeting last Thursday, the mayors of the Fremont County Alliance of Governments listened to a presentation on the newly-revamped CSBG program under the Independence Alliance of Fremont County.
RaJean Fossen gave a brief overview to the mayors and others in attendance about the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) program under the IAFC, describing the transition from the Fremont County Action Committee–a grant application process approved annually by the state that provides funding for CSBG subgrantees, which are existing Fremont County nonprofits that have missions to assist families and individuals with emergency needs (food, rent, utility payments), education, substance abuse abatement, etc.
“We take [CSBG] funds, which are Federal funds that come through FCAG,” Fossen said. “We are the acting board that distributes those funds for social services here in Fremont County.”
The new IAFC mission will be based on three goals generated by the National Community Action Theory of Change. “These are the goals that the Feds tell us that we are running off of,” Fossen said. “Our new streamlined mission is to provide Fremont County individuals and families with the opportunity to achieve economic self-sufficiency services through the provision of case management resources, as well as connections to community service.”
2021-2023 subgrantees included Almost Home Wyoming, First Stop Help Center, Riverton Help Center, Fremont County Alliance Against Domestic Violence, Eagles Hope, Injury Prevention Services, Volunteers of America (2021-2022), and Fremont County group homes. 499 families and 825 individuals were served under the 2021-2022 CSBG/CARES Program.
Since 2017, the IAFC Board has been observing Laramie County’s “Project Hope”, and at their 2021 goal-setting session, decided to investigate Laramie County’s successes, asking the questions: Are we really helping eliminate poverty? What are the root causes of poverty? What population do we serve and why do we serve them? How do we address the issue of emergency services not helping persons get out of poverty?
Comparatively, Laramie County served 25-50 clients, in contrast to Fremont County’s 825 individuals served.
“Emergency services are what we have of the most,” Fossen said, “But they’re not really helping people get out of poverty. I say that, not as a blanket thing…Eagles Hope is a great model for the CSBG, Almost Home is a great model…because they’re taking someone early on, running through a longer program, and giving them skills to get them out of poverty. The help centers, although they’re very much-needed services, they’re a one-stop shop…so people have been trained to use the services they need, and go back again and again without getting the skills to get themselves out of poverty.”
“We started asking ourselves…all of these entities do really great things,” Fossen said. “But are we just providing one-time services and band-aids? Do they keep coming back? Are they really doing self-sufficiency, like the goals ask us to do?”
Under the new program that will begin on October 1, the IAFC will ensure that CSBG funds and other funds as determined appropriate for human services are wisely spent on needed services, that services are available and known about, and that services that are available are based on demonstrated need and are fairly, efficiently, and effectively made available to low-income residents of our community who need them. Advocacy on behalf of those who need human services is also a component of the program.
The parameters of IAFC’s foundations and goals will include:
- Maintain a stable home
- Maintain a stable job.
- Enhancement of Life Skills (budgeting, interviewing skills, nutrition, parenting, building social skills and community relations, financial stability/saving)
- Addressing individual needs
- Developing goals to achieve
- Improving the quality of life
Crisis intervention and emergency needs will still exist for persons entering the doors who may be in crises with food and home insecurities, or who may use existing subgrantees to assist with immediate needs such as homelessness, eviction, utility shut-off abatement, food resources, substance abuse abatement, and other client needs through contract or paid services.
A hand up, not a hand out
The IAFC is currently comprised of six board members, including newly-elected Co-Chairs Richard Mills and Jim Davis, who were present to receive questions and comments from the FCAG mayors and attendees. Fossen–along with Public Sector representative Echo Klaproth, Lander City Councilmember Melinda Cox, and Christina Pattison, wife of Pavillion Mayor Matt Pattison–are also on the IAFC board.
“One of the reasons we were looking at the Laramie model was that, after their first year, even though they took less people in, their success rate was huge,” said Richard Mills, mentioning Laramie County’s 65% success rate. “Some ended up entering college, some ended up getting first-time home loans, others were able to buy cars…they weren’t just getting the one-time ‘I need my rent paid’ because they went through case management, learning how to do different things. A lot of them were successful.”
“To simplify it all,” Klaproth added. “We feel like, to be better stewards of this money…instead of just being a hand out, we’re going to be a hand up by offering them opportunities. Through our subgrantees, we can educate and help people get education and encouragement. Some of them just honestly don’t know where to start. So we can be a board that will be helping people long-term.”
Dubois Mayor Patricia Neveaux asked if they had any luck with services in their community. Fossen replied that in her 8-year tenure, they “had not had any people that reside in Dubois,” she said. “We had some people that were dislocated from Dubois that have been helped through our subgrantees.”
When Neveaux asked how they could change that, FCAG Administrator Gary Michaud mentioned that in 2006, the CSBG program was managed by an organization in Worland, and that “it wasn’t working out well, so that’s why we formed this committee here, and then we did have some participation from Dubois at that time” he said, referring to St. Michael’s Food Bank. “Then we got some feedback from Dubois that basically said ‘thanks for this, but we take care of our own.’”
“With this transition…Dubois, Pavilion, Wind River Reservation residents…every resident in Fremont County is eligible for our services now,” Fossen said. “They’re not someone that is already familiar with Almost Home Wyoming or some service that does not exist in Dubois. Every individual in Fremont County is eligible for the new case management services.”
“It’s up to this board’s job to make sure that those services are adequately advertised and put out up there,” Fossen continued. “We handed out tri-fold brochures and rack cards that everyone could put in their cities…if you have any suggestions on a way to get referrals out to all the residents of Fremont County, absolutely let the board know.”
Mayor and FCAG Vice-Chair Joel Highsmith said he applauded the program as a hand up and not a hand out,” he said. “Trying to break the cycle…I think that’s really good and look forward to maybe Shoshoni being involved.”
“In the long run, I think it will inspire some incentive that wasn’t there before,” said Mills.
When asked about the difference between the IAFC program and Circles Fremont County, Fossen said that the goal that Circles presented to their board was to see if IAFC grant funding would help them sustain their program past their current 2026 date.
“That is not likely because we have an annual program that we have to go through,” she said,” but it’s very symbiotic in nature. I don’t think it’s duplicative; we’re not copy-cating each other. They have a wonderful referral service to us because they’re going to see these families first-hand, whereas our board and our case managers aren’t out in the community. So through the school district, they could say we could be a referral for them…then we could help that family through our program.”
CSBG Director Doug Spriggs said that one of the differences between Circles and CSBG is that “Circles is not able to use their funding/funding streams to help with housing or utilities,” he said. “They’re able to use it for educational purposes, where they can have a meal night and things of that nature to bring families in that want to come in. But if someone has a utility payment, they’re not able to help with that. When we look at CSBG and long-term care–those families that come in with specific needs that we can immediately address, as well as that educational component–that’s what differentiates us between Circles and makes them a great referral and very collaborative with the school districts with CSBG.”
IAFC Board Meetings are held on the 4th Tuesday of the month at 12:00 Noon at Riverton City Hall. For more information about the Independence Alliance of Fremont County, visit the FCAG website under “CSBG.”