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Local non-profit looks to upgrade services

Posted: August 28, 2012 7:57 p.m.
Updated: August 29, 2012 5:00 a.m.
Michael Ulmer/C-I

Nearing its fifth decade of existence, Wateree Community Actions Inc., located on West DeKalb Street in Camden, offers a variety of services to poor and disadvantaged individuals in the area. The organization is currently looking to revamp and upgrade how it operates in the community.

Established nearly 50 years ago, Wateree Community Actions Inc. (WCAI) is in the process of updating its policies and revamping its vision according to Public Information Director Kenya Mingo.

The group’s overall objective is to help the community’s poor and disadvantaged become self-sufficient by providing resources like youth leadership programs, educational opportunities and temporary housing to those in need.

Mingo said the organization, created in 1964 through the Economic Opportunity Act, is upgrading its services to operate more effectively in the five counties it serves -- Kershaw, Clarendon, Lee, Richland, and Sumter. She explained that WCAI is aiming to evolve more quickly, particularly when it comes to technology, in order to keep up with the changing times.

“We’re revamping all of our programs to be able to make a better impact. The programs have been working, but it’s really just been going along since the ’60s,” Mingo said. “Everything is becoming more technologically advanced. It’s a big piece of what everybody does now, but 48 years ago it wasn’t.”

Mingo said the organization understands that while youth in the area likely know the ins and outs of using computers, older folks may not.

“We know the youth have been exposed to it because they’re in school and that’s the direction the schools are going,” she said. “With the older generations, who are probably afraid to use a computer, we’re going to be helping them to develop those skills. Even with unemployment, you have to go online and register for unemployment or if you’re looking for a job, you go online.”

Additionally, WCAI is working with the University of South Carolina (USC) to determine the best way to serve local communities.  

“We’re currently working with the USC College of Social Work to create an evaluation piece so we can identify what the clients really need. This will help us identify some of the areas where we can assist better,” Mingo said. “This will include things like financing planning. Why would someone do that? Well it’s easy to go and tell someone to go and open a checking account, but if you don’t have anything to put in it, you’re still at square one.”

Another goal of the organization’s upgrades will be to more effectively promote the idea of self-sustainability over dependency.

“Our mission is tied to developing a sense of self-sufficiency. More often than not, we see a lot of people that are repeat clients. We’re helping them for the moment, for example, in terms of paying a bill, but we have to get them to a point where they can sustain on their own. That could mean helping them develop better interview skills, coming up with better job training, whatever it is, we have to be able to go and do that,” Mingo said.

She noted that while the agency seeks ways to grow support, requirements have also been put in place to restrict the number of times an individual can receive help.

“We have gone from serving clients twice a year to once a year, but at the same time, we have to do more than that. We need to give them the right skills and training,” she said.

With the organization’s youth outreach service, opportunities also exist for students at least 16-years-old to obtain paid jobs in the community.

“In Camden, we have agreements with Camden (First) United Methodist Church, with the various soup kitchens in the area, as well as Habitat for Humanity -- places where kids would also be able to give back,” Mingo said. “We reach out to a wide variety of people, but we try to keep the youth in that particular area. So if they’re from Camden, we don’t try to make them go to Richland or Sumter counties.”

WCAI also provides work placement programs for adults, but Mingo noted some individuals can sometimes be “more picky” than others.

“You have people that don’t want to work at a McDonalds. We sometimes get the response, ‘I don’t want to work there.’ My thinking is ‘wouldn’t some job be better than no job?’ That’s a dependency mindset and we have to help change that.”


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