Community Action Month: Partnering for a Better Community
May is National Community Action Month, which celebrates the stories and successes of Community Action Agencies (CAAs) and the 1,000+ Community Action Partners (CAPs), while raising awareness of poverty-related problems on both the city and the state level. The PA Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED) manages the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), which provides funding opportunities to CAAs across the state to combat poverty in disadvantaged and low-income communities. We spoke to Tay Waltenbaugh, CEO of Westmoreland Community Action in Western Pennsylvania, about his agency’s successes and vision – including its Mount Pleasant store, American Architectural Salvage.
A Community Action Agency at Work
“DCED was the glue to hold things together when we got started, helping us get off the ground with a grant and helping us to get our staff and team together.”
Westmoreland Community Action has been working to “strengthen communities and families to eliminate poverty” — its official mission statement — in Westmoreland County since 1980, administering social service programs to assist the county’s disadvantaged populations. The Western Pennsylvania agency has helped thousands of disadvantaged residents in the county during its tenure through housing services, emergency assistance, mental health programs, employment programs, child development, and more.
Waltenbaugh said Westmoreland Community Action continues to execute its 26 programs, including early childhood education Head Start programs, crisis behavioral health programs, drug and alcohol programs, and housing initiatives.
Finding Purpose in Repurposed, Recycled, and Reused Goods
Since 2012, one of the agency’s primary initiatives has been operating a store in Mt. Pleasant, which sells donated or recaptured building supplies from businesses, manufacturers, and the general public. The store was purchased and repurposed from a six-acre lumber yard and boasts 45,000 square feet of furniture space. American Architectural Salvage, formerly known as Shop Demo Depot, aims to reduce landfill waste by promoting the resale and reuse of goods captured from deconstructed properties prior to their demolishment.
“We were sending everything to landfills, and we thought that was kind of ridiculous. You can capture up to 80 percent of any building if you deconstruct it properly,” Waltenbaugh said. “On this side of the country, we’re not accustomed to doing things like that — recapturing goods.”
Waltenbaugh said that through the store’s efforts, they’ve not only done a good job of keeping goods out of landfills, but the agency has helped to remove a lot of blight in the area.
Hiring employees at the store is another way Westmoreland Community Action is giving back to the community, offering jobs to people who really need employment. With eight employees currently, Waltenbaugh said the agency is looking to expand.
“Our rule is 75 percent of the people we hire have to be low-income, and 50 percent have to be single, female heads-of-household,” Waltenbaugh explained. “When we hire people, I don’t think that it’s for a lifelong position — but it’s something they can really build on, and it’s good for the community.”
Working Together to Create Opportunity
Waltenbaugh credits assistance from Governor Tom Wolf, the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), and partner agencies for the success of the store, as well as its other programs.
“DCED was the glue to hold things together when we got started, helping us get off the ground with a grant and helping us to get our staff and team together ,” Waltenbaugh said, noting that the agency has also utilized DCED’s Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP) — a tax credit program that encourages businesses to invest in projects which improve distressed areas.
“That’s the kind of partnership Community Action Agencies have — they didn’t have to do that, but they thought it was the right thing,” Waltenbaugh said, noting that the three agencies work together continuously.
Waltenbaugh’s short-term goal for the store? He hopes it will receive a grant to establish its own demolition company, allowing it to hire about 30 additional employees and better control the goods that come onto the floor. But his long-term mission is to improve the lives of his employees.
“The ultimate goal really is to assist these individuals to find better work, more earning power, more money in their pocket — and the ability to support the Community Action Agencies and programs they’re currently a part of.”
In calendar year 2015, DCED allocated over $28 million in the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) program to 44 Community Action Agencies across the state. These community assistance funds helped more than 15,000 low-income individuals in need of various temporary and emergency services, among others. Funding for both the CSBG and NAP programs helps realize DCED’s and the CAAs’ shared mission of helping low-income families to achieve economic stability.
To discover more about DCED’s Neighborhood Assistance Program and other resources available to companies and organizations, visit DCED’s website and follow along on Twitter and LinkedIn throughout the month using the hashtag #BeCommunityAction, and make sure to sign up for our monthly e-newsletter.
Tay Waltenbaugh has served as CEO of Westmoreland Community Action, formerly Westmoreland Human Opportunities, since 1990, and has been responsible for growing the budget from $1.2 million to $14 million and increasing programs and staff. Waletnhbaugh has received numerous community service awards, finding time to volunteer himself for a number of organizations in the region. He concentrates his efforts in eliminating poverty by helping communities through housing, employment, food and nutrition, transportation and drug and alcohol services. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology and sociology from Juniata College.