Programs discussed to assist families in their efforts to rise above poverty line

WILLMAR -- Development of a strategic plan that involved some "soul searching" in the Heartland Community Action Agency has brought about changes in how the nonprofit organization is helping eliminate poverty in the region.

WILLMAR -- Development of a strategic plan that involved some "soul searching" in the Heartland Community Action Agency has brought about changes in how the nonprofit organization is helping eliminate poverty in the region.

Jay Kieft, executive director of the four-county organization, gave the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners an update on Heartland's programs during the County Board meeting Tuesday.

Kieft said there has been a shift from using the "band-aid approach" of responding to poverty to "high-impact activities" that are better helping low-income families get out of poverty.

The federal income poverty guideline for 2006 is $20,000 for a family of four. The cost of living in this region for that same family is $40,244, according to written material provided by Kieft.

He said a growing trend is that more people who are seeking Heartland services are working. And, he said, more people are coming to Heartland "poorer" than in the past.


He said there are "too many people" who are living in poverty "to be ignored" and that one agency alone cannot take on the task of eliminating poverty and advocating for low-income families.

Kandiyohi County makes annual contributions to Heartland which are based on a revenue formula. This year's financial request from Kandiyohi County is $22,000.

The programs offered by Heartland range from educating young children to helping families buy a home, he said.

Providing Head Start classes to young children has proven to be a vital "investment" for families and the community.

There are five Head Start classrooms in Willmar and one in Spicer. Head Start is a child development program aimed at increasing the school readiness of young children in low-income families.

Heartland has several housing programs, including one for first-time homeowners, that can provide "a bridge" for them out of poverty.

A "knock on the door" survey of 178 low-income families was conducted to find out the real-life needs of people and how to create programs that respond to those needs.

Kieft said Heartland's "high-impact" strategies include:


- Building relationships across class and race lines to get people out of poverty.

- Strengthening and building community capacity to ensure that all low-income children receive a high-quality, well-rounded education.

- Strengthening and building capacity through public policy and resource development to assure that all low-income people have safe, livable, affordable housing.

- Building a strategy-focused organization which acts as a catalyst to eliminate poverty.

- Developing a skilled, committed group of leaders to end poverty.

The County Board on Tuesday also heard a presentation from Charlotte Hand, a Kandiyohi County social worker, about a training session that family service employees attended called HOPE, or, "How Our Potential Explodes."

Hand said the training has "changed the lives" of the county employees in how they do their work, how they deal with their clients and even how they communicate with their own families.

"It's the best training I've ever been through," said Hand, who praised Family Services Director Larry Kleindl for sending the staff to the seminar.


Also Tuesday, the board approved a final plat for Westlund Shores on the condition that a permanent conservation easement is placed on the entire width of the proposed development. Conservation easements place restrictions on the use of a piece of property, most often permanently, to protect the land's conservation value.

The condition was added to the final plat to remedy grading, filling and extensive removal of natural shoreland vegetation that the owner already did on the property. Commissioner Richard Falk cast the only no vote.

In other action Tuesday:

- The board was introduced to Trisha Appeldorn, who has been hired as the new Veterans Services Officer.

- The board was informed that the county is having discussions with Kandiyohi Power Cooperative about a potential partnership for reading meters on the new sanitary sewer system on Lake Florida.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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