Indiana Nonprofit Responds to Rise in Poverty with New Programs

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September 18, 2011; Source: Fort Wayne Journal Gazette | For many nonprofits the news of rising poverty rates released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau were a frustrating reminder that the need for support within communities throughout the country often exceeds the ability of individual organizations to respond. A recent story in the Journal Gazettein Fort Wayne, Indiana highlights the work of a local anti-poverty nonprofit, Community Action of Northeast Indiana (CANI), and shows how even at time of increased need and funding shortfalls, the organization has managed to expand programming and is considering new income-generating ventures for the future.

In 2010 CANI served over 30,000 residents representing eight Indiana counties with programs that focus on children, families, housing, and community economic development. Steve Hoffman, CANI’s executive director, told the Journal Gazette that the organization’s 2010 strategic plan emphasizes the central importance of asset building for clients in a state where the poverty rate is at 16.3 percent, higher than the national average of 15.1 percent. This stubbornly high poverty rate has led to the creation of a new department of community and economic development to house some new programs along with some existing ones.

As an example of CANI’s new offerings, the organization has implemented a microfinance program with microlending and credit-building components. Explaining the rationale of the program, Steve Hoffman told the Journal Gazette, “What we’re trying to do in lending is fill a gap. We’re not trying to compete with banks; we’re trying to help people become bankable.”

One example of a newly “bankable” resident is Enrique Veloz, who learned about CANI’s business classes and loan opportunities through a radio advertisement and after completing the program is now looking for a second location for his business. CANI’s credit-building program has only been in operation for a few months and until now has focused on individuals, but the organization is considering bringing a version of the program to local employers. The Journal Gazetteexplains, “It would work by allowing a company to establish a loan fund for employees with low credit scores, who might use the money to buy a reliable car.” As the loan administrator, CANI could then use interest fees to support other programs.

In looking toward the future, CANI is also considering adding home energy audits to its list of services.—Anne Eigeman