Serving low income families in the counties of Cottonwood, Jackson, Lincoln, Redwood, and Lyon, the non-profit Western Community Action provides a wide variety of assistance programs to those facing poverty and that are struggling. The agency offers housing assistance in the form of rent and foreclosure help, funds to pay utility or heating bills, credit counseling, free food, and more.
The main programs from the agency are below. While not everyone will qualify, if the organization can’t meet the individual’s needs then referrals may be provided to a variety of other local resources in the region. The community action agency partners with local churches or charities, and also have information on state and federal benefits such as SNAP food stamps.
Mortgage and rent assistance is available, along with homelessness programs. The goal is to allow people to remain in their homes or apartments, or rehouse the homeless. So there are a few components to their housing support.
Case management is a requirement, and for people that enroll, they can also receive financial aid for rent. If someone is homeless, and provided they meet other conditions, then WCA can help pay the security deposit on a new home or low income apartment in counties such as Lincoln or Cottonwood. Another option is a free motel voucher, which is used to pay for short term motel stays. All of this is offered provided participants to work towards self-sufficiency and a long-term housing stability, including finding a job and searching for a permanent home.
Other advice, that is offered along with interest free loans as well as access to the emergency rental assistance, is referrals to employment resources and job training, transportation assistance, help in applying for section 8 rent subsidies, and credit counseling. All of this may be combined with one time funds for paying a rent expense.
Heating and general utility bill help is provided from the Energy Assistance Program, which is another resource offered by Western Community Action. The agency provides free energy conservation from weatherization, grants as a form of heating bill assistance, crisis prevention, furnace repairs, and referrals to other programs and services, including LIHEAP in Minnesota.
Case managers can also help the homeowner set up a payment plan with their energy provider, such as budgeting plans. There is also free energy conservation tips and information passed out as well. However, what is in highest demand from Western Community Action, and is most limited, is the one time funds for paying an overdue bill.
Weatherization from WCA is a free program that will make homes, especially older ones, more energy efficient. First, diagnostic testing is done by staff. Based on the results of that testing, it will help the community action agency determine if the home has the required amount of air sealing, insulation and if your furnace, air conditioner and water heater are operating properly. Weatherization will pay for minor updates, repairs, extra insulation, CFL bulbs, and other aid.
Free Food Shelves, or pantries, are run by Western Community Action and partners in counties including Redwood, Cottonwood and others. Volunteers pass out free boxes of food and provide referrals, and all the shelves use the client choice model. This means clients of WCA are able to select the groceries they need and will use, so this makes the pantries even more effective.
While resources are limited, for those that are qualified, in general the more people in their family, the more free food and groceries they are given. In general, aid from the community action agency is only available at most once per month, but additional visits may occur for people, such as seniors or children, in extreme need or crisis.
The food pantries run in the area provide families and individuals in need with free groceries, food, fruits, holiday meals, and other personal care items. So they are wide ranging, and there are locations in Mary & Martha’s Pantry of Westbrook, Kitchen Table Pantry of Tracy Minnesota, as well as Okabena Shelf of Heron Lake.
Additional Food Assistance programs are combined with the aid from the shelves. They can refer clients to benefits such as SNAP food stamps, and help them apply. The goal is to fight hunger, and they also offer help from WIC for single moms and infants, or coordinate free meals for senior citizens and the disabled.
A Thrift Store is also run by WCA in Redwood Falls. It is open to the public, and gives people the opportunity to find bargains, such as quality but affordable winter coats, games for children, furniture, clothing, and much more. The funds raised are used to pay for these various financial aid programs.
As part of self-sufficiency, Financial Education is a key focus. Staff and credit counselors from Western Community Action provide information to the unemployed, people that lost income due to medical needs, the working poor, or those with excessive debts. Financial Fitness classes are organized for people across the region, and WCA works with partners on Debt Reduction, Relationships with Financial Institutions, Foreclosure Counseling, Budgeting, Asset Building, and Advice on Building a Good Credit Rating.
A free Tax Clinic is available in the region for people in Jackson, Lyon, Lincoln, Cottonwood, and Redwood County. Western Community Action gives free Tax Preparation services and advice for the low income those in poverty. It can help individuals obtain all the credits they are entitled to and give them a bigger refund as well.
Head Start from Western Community Action is offered as a federal government funded, quality, family-focused education and preschool program. It covers many topics, but in general it promotes the growth and development of children under the age of 5. Eligibility for Head Start from WCA is based on government guidelines for family income, with priority given to working poor and lower income families whose income is at or below the federal poverty level.
Home Based sessions are in an option for those that are not near a school or lack transportation. However most of Head Start is Center Based, and children as well as parents meet with teaches for educational and other support.
First time homebuyers can enroll into Home Ownership classes. Funds and grants are offered in partnership with the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, and using these government grants Western Community Action will purchase homes and then resell them to qualified buyers in counties including, but not limited to, Cottonwood. The buyer will be given a low interest loan, and will also need to agree to make monthly payments equal to 25% of their annual households income. Free advice on maintaining the home, avoiding a foreclosure, and other support is given too.
For the low income, the Western Community Action may be the main center to call for help in the region. These programs, and much more (such as referrals and applications to public aid) are offered. The locations are below.
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