EQUITY Program of the Month
Community Action New Mexico: Six community action agencies working together to make a difference.
Community Action New Mexico is a network of six agencies that offer a host of asset building services statewide. These agencies—Community Action Agency of Southern New Mexico, Eastern Plains Community Action Agency, Economic Council Helping Others, Empowering Our Communities in New Mexico, HELP, and Open Hands—have all banned together to work toward the common vision of strengthening the economy and developing the assets of the families and communities in New Mexico.
Based on that vision, Community Action offers a host of services and programs divided into five areas of work including economic development, improving housing options, and educating youth. To strengthen their economy, these agencies provide assistance in asset building and financial education. In addition, programs to aid to farm workers, to develop a small business, and to set up a federally-funded Individual Development Account (IDA) are also available.
The six member agencies try to provide services for a broad range of citizen needs. To improve housing options for the people of New Mexico, CANM works to create affordable housing, assist in owner-occupied rehabilitation, and to help make existing homes more energy efficient. To serve the people in their communities, programs such as Headstart, programs to get a GED, to serve teens, to provide child and adult care, free tax assistance, employment, and job placement, can all be found at this comprehensive agency.
Community Action’s successes speak for themselves. Over 600 people have successfully graduated from their financial literacy programs. In addition, over 430 individual development accounts have been opened. Thus far, these accounts have lead to the creation of 23 new businesses, 22 individuals have purchased post-secondary education, and eight families have purchased their first home.
People with disabilities have also benefited from the services, advocacy, and coaching provided by Community Action New Mexico by participating in the home purchase and small business development IDA programs. For example, CANM’s home page tells the life-changing story of a sixty-one year-old single woman with a disability. By participating in an IDA program, she was able to purchase a computer and take online classes. This led to her receiving a certificate in gerontology, and she is now working at a nursing home. “This part-time job now allows me to qualify for Medicaid, which had been a major financial goal for me.”
“One of the keys to successful participation for people with disabilities is the association’s ability to provide a person with individual accommodations,” says Sharon Finarelli, project manager with Community Action New Mexico. “Everyone is different; we try to help each person find the best solution for themselves, and we just try to provide support, and not push an agenda.” Accommodations have varied depending on the particular disability: a participant with multiple chemical sensitivity found it more efficient to take financial literacy classes online from home, while low vision participants required Braille or more spoken instruction. “It really depends on what the individual needs,” says Finarelli, ‘but I’ll tell you, higher levels of success are definitely associated with better accommodations. It’s all about being flexible,” she says. “Maybe you need to work from home, or part-time, perhaps you require text, or never want to work with text, there is a way to do it. You just have to try.”
Finarelli tries to focus on the positive, what the individual can do rather than what they cannot do. “Everyone has limitations of one sort or another; the key is focusing on the CAN, and then coaching that up. Maybe a full-time or part-time job is not possible right now, but can you sell your art, music, or crochet on eBay, or to friends, or at a craft fair?” she asks. “That’s a start and would provide the earned income to participate in an IDA program,” she continues. Finarelli also believes that it is important how someone frames their efforts. “You’re not just playing around selling stuff online, you’re a micro-enterprise, you’re a legitimate business owner. Focus on what you can do.”
Just changing from the cannot to the can mentality can make a huge difference for anyone participating in an asset development program. “That change is powerful, and makes a huge difference,” says Finarelli. “We want to be part of that difference.”
Community Action New Mexico is already making a difference, but is currently re-engineering their services and approach to better serve their constituents. “We are trying to become strategic so that we can better serve all our clients, particularly those with disabilities,” says Finarelli. “We definitely see the need and want to better serve the disability population.”
Community Action currently works with local disability navigators, the Department of Rehabilitation, and benefits planners and work incentive experts to assist people with disabilities in their asset building efforts. “We want to work even more closely with these service providers to encourage asset building for people with disabilities,” says Finarelli. “With the AFIA funding, we can provide a real opportunity for people on benefits to start building assets and not put those benefits at risk,” she says.
For more information on Community Action New Mexico, please visit their website at http://www.communityactionnewmexico.org/.