Fayette County Community Action Agency: A Model for Community Development
The Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) administers the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) program for community-based organizations. The CSBG program aims to revitalize low-income communities across the state by funding various initiatives, including job training, housing, drug counseling, education, and more.
We spoke to Jim Stark, CEO of Fayette County Community Action Agency, Inc. (FCCAA), about how the CSBG program helped one of the lowest-income counties in Pennsylvania.
Building A Community
Since 1967, FCCAA has committed itself to the people, businesses, and community of Fayette County. Historically known as one of the counties with the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the state, we have our work cut out for us.
Our programs ultimately work to move people toward self-sufficiency, building stronger families to make them successful in today’s world. This comes to life in many ways: we offer services for senior citizens, people with disabilities, and households with lower incomes. A large percentage of our work involves emergency assistance, like providing shelter to those facing eviction and homelessness or sharing meals with those who cannot afford to buy food.
We also manage several training programs, including job training and empowerment and leadership development. By building soft skills and on-the-job training, we hope to equip our residents with the confidence and ability to find fulfilling employment opportunities. Through our housing development work, we provide a range of affordable housing options for families, older residents, and persons with disabilities. Additionally, our housing program helps families to find affordable housing and ultimately become home owners.
FCCAA operates a Campus of Services in Uniontown that houses most of our service programs, as well as 15 other nonprofit agencies. By bringing us all under one roof, we provide a one-stop shop for residents seeking assistance. We also break down the barriers with other nonprofits, which allows us to address the needs of our community in a more efficient and effective manner.
While many of these programs have been in operation since our founding 50 years ago, we always look for innovative ways to better the lives of our residents. The most recent example of this is our Republic Food Enterprise Center (RFEC), a social enterprise that works to bridge the gap between farm and table in our community.
Feeding Our Region
A few years ago, we started RFEC to rebuild our region’s agricultural resources. We recognized a need to stimulate agriculture production in western Pennsylvania, as many of our small farms and agricultural resources had deteriorated over time. We saw this as an opportunity to stimulate our overall economy as well.
Through RFEC, we join farmers’ markets throughout the region to ensure residents in our “food deserts” have access to fresh local produce, and that farmers and artisans have an opportunity to sell their goods. Last summer RFEC joined 2-3 farmers’ markets each day selling locally grown produce and value-added products produced at the Center.
RFEC also has a commercial kitchen, which allows us to partner with area farmers or entrepreneurs who need space and equipment for food production. Various CSBG grants from DCED have enabled us to purchase equipment for manufacturing and packaging value-added products, as well as a large walk-in cooler and freezer unit to store fresh produce and meat products for our food bank.
Through these efforts, we are creating jobs and new business opportunities in agriculture and food production. In the coming year, we look forward to focusing our efforts on expanding regional sheep, lamb, and goat production, in partnership with the Appalachian Regional Commission, DCED, and the PA Department of Agriculture. We will also be adding an aquaponics component to the effort.
A Model for Living Happy
Our approach is comprehensive: we focus equally on personal and community development, knowing that residents need safe places to live, work, and play to find true self-sufficiency. We pride ourselves on quality customer service and the development of strong personal relations with the people we serve, so we can be a trusted partner to our residents.
We have seen tremendous benefits from working with neighboring community action agencies, including those in Washington and Greene counties. Our collaboration and shared vision have propelled us to develop solutions and move our region forward.
Lastly, we value our partnerships with state, regional, and federal agencies. When we have a vision for a large project, like the RFEC, we work to put the pieces together through different funding opportunities. FCCAA could not do what we do without DCED’s support. Community Services Block Grant funding, the Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP), or the technical training and other resources which DCED brings to the table have been essential to our ability to address local barriers our communities face.
As we continue to work with our partners in community and economic development, FCCAA will ensure that the people of Fayette County can work smart and live happy for years to come.
Visit the FCCAA website to learn more. Learn more about DCED’s CSBG and NAP programs on our website. Continue to stay up-to-date with all of Pennsylvania’s latest news and program announcements by signing up for our monthly e-newsletter or following us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.
James Stark has served as CEO of Fayette County Community Action Agency, Inc. (FCCAA) for 31 years. He received a BA in Social Science and an MA from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs from the University of Pittsburgh. He completed three years of doctoral work at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz School of Public Policy. Through the years, FCCAA has been recognized for the quality of its work nationally and statewide.