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Heartland merging with another community action agency

WILLMAR--A year of planning is leading the Oct. 1 merger of social service agencies in west central and southwestern Minnesota. Heartland Community Action Agency, based in Willmar, and Western Community Action Agency, based in Marshall, will beco...

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WILLMAR-A year of planning is leading the Oct. 1 merger of social service agencies in west central and southwestern Minnesota.

Heartland Community Action Agency, based in Willmar, and Western Community Action Agency, based in Marshall, will become United Community Action Partnership.

People in nine counties will see the new name and logo beginning in October. United Community Action Partnership will serve people in Cottonwood, Jackson, Kandiyohi, Lyon, Lincoln, McLeod, Meeker, Redwood and Renville counties. The headquarters will be in Marshall, and the agency will retain its Willmar offices. It will have more than 220 employees.

Last year, Heartland and Western each served about 11,750 people. The motto of United Community Action Partnership will be, "Helping People, Changing Lives, Eliminating Poverty."

The hope is that the larger agency, covering nine rural counties, could be eligible for larger grants or new grants with its new size, said Deb Brandt, community service director for Heartland. She will retain that title in the merged agency.

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"Everything is coming together" after a full year of planning, Brandt said. "Our hope is that we will be able to retain all the services we currently provide and also enhance our services."

Some services offered by one agency in the past will be expanded to the full service area after the merger, she said. Western offered a popular tax service that will now be offered in the Heartland area.

Heartland's donated vehicle program will be offered in the Western service area. "They are chomping at the bit to get going on that," Brandt said.

Other services will include Head Start, transportation, emergency housing, thrift stores, food shelves, mentor programs and energy assistance.

Representatives of the two agencies have been developing procedures and policies for the combined agency. The agencies have used different accounting software and different phone systems in the past. United Community Action Partnership will use some policies and software from each of the old agencies.

"We're trying to pull together the best of what we both have in our policies," Brandt said.

The staff named the new agency. "It was a great way to get the staff's ownership," she said.

There will be no staff layoffs in the merger. "Through all this, the boards have said they don't want the staff harmed," Brandt said. Some job duties may change, or people may move into new positions, but they'll all have jobs.

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Four agencies started talking about a possible merger a few years ago, but only the two decided to move ahead with the merger.

"I think together we'll be stronger," Brandt said.

Related Topics: MARSHALL
In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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