Wateree Community Actions Inc. (WCAI), a non-profit group serving Kershaw and four other counties, is in the midst of revamping itself with Dr. James Coleman as new executive director.
Born and raised in Camden, Coleman came to WCAI last August after working for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. He said he was looking for an opportunity to come back to Camden, but also wanted to be able to work with his hometown community.
“The job is fun and it’s challenging, but I’m very thankful that past experiences have prepared me to meet the challenges,” Coleman said.
WCAI’s objective is to help poor and disadvantaged people within their communities become self-sufficient by providing resources and tools like youth leadership programs, educational programs, job training and temporary housing to those in need.
The Camden office works with four other offices in Lee, Clarendon, Sumter and Richland counties in order to coordinate services. Coleman said that while each community is different, there are also some similarities.
“Kershaw County may have different needs than Richland County or Lee County, but we want to make sure that all of our county offices are coordinating their activities around the needs of the designated community,” he said.
Coleman said that in addition to the other county offices, WCAI tries to work with organizations like the United Way and with local schools. He did say, however, that the organization could do a better job of partnering with other institutions.
“One of the things that we have found in the limited time that I’ve been here is that through the assessments that I’ve done as well as the assessments done by the state office, is that we’ve been serving some of the same clients over and over again,” Coleman said. “That tells me that only certain sectors of people within the community are getting served and they are getting served numerous times.”
Kenya Mingo, WCAI’s county coordinator, said that while the group performs its own community research, they also depend on others to provide feedback on the group’s activities.
“When people come in, whether they qualify for our services or not, we ask them to complete our community needs assessment sheet so that we know that we’re going to get better,” Mingo said.
She added that the group wants to help everybody, but that it cannot be accomplished without jeopardizing jobs and funding.
“I think any disparaging remarks about the office come from people being told no because for so long prior to new leadership, (those) things have kind of been glossed over,” said Mingo.
WCAI’s funding comes through a state block grant from the S.C. Office of Economic Opportunity, but the dollars are distributed through the federal government via the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. Coleman said he didn’t want the organization to do any activity outside the scope of federal regulations for fear of losing money that could help the community.
“The federal government always reserves the right to remove your funding if you’re not handling it properly,” Coleman said. “Even though people may disagree sometimes with us, hopefully they will respect the position we take based on what the federal government says we can and cannot do.”
Coleman added that although the group has limited funds with only a certain amount allocated to Kershaw County, the organization wants to open up services to all that qualify.
“We want to make sure that we’re serving as many new clients as we can because everyone is suffering now because of the economy,” he said. “We don’t want the people who may know the system, the people that know how to get around and under and over the system, to be accessing the system all the time.
“We want to make sure our services are spread out.”