Action Council directors see fruits of their funding

March 23, 1994|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writer

Four-year-old Michelle Burgess and classmate Kateris Kelly-Cornish, age 3, stood in a circle of children yesterday, smiling as 10 mostly-unfamiliar faces entered their Head Start program classroom in Ellicott City.

"Let's show them our duck song," said teacher Robert Brightful to the ring of about a dozen toddlers.

As a lively tune played in the background, the children marched in place, flailing their arms, singing in unison, "Five little ducks went out one day, over the hills and far away . . ."

For members of the board of directors of the county's Community Action Council, it was a rare first-hand look at one of the many programs run by the nonprofit social service organization.

Four of the council's 15 board members took a four-hour county tour that included a visit to the council's food bank in Ellicott City and two of its four Head Start centers.

"I just think it was an eye opener," said Dorothy Moore, director of the council, who said she wants to give a similar tour to other board members and to members of the County Council. "They were genuinely into what we do. I was very, very pleased."

The council, based in Columbia, has an annual budget of $2.2 million. It receives funds for its programs from the federal, state and local government, as well as through private donations from individuals and companies.

Those donations include food, which goes to needy families or to organizations that provide food to the needy. Based in Ellicott City, the food bank opens every Tuesday and Thursday for distribution.

Donations also fund an energy conservation and assistance program for those who have difficulty meeting their utility bills.

In addition, the council runs all of the county's 13 Head Start classes, a program that provides education, medical care and other services to more than 220 low-income preschool children and their families.

Children in the Head Start program meet for a four-hour day, during which they participate in developmental and recreational activities and eat breakfast or lunch, depending on the time of day they attend the program.

"I just can't see the school system doing what you're doing," board member Walter Brown told CAC employees, while watching Michelle and Kateris' class at Ellicott City Center. "I'm impressed. I'm really enjoying this."

Later, as they watched construction workers add weather protection to an Ellicott City home in a council-funded project, council employees pointed out problems that lead to high utility bills.

"Small things like leaks around those doors and windows . . . all the minor things really add up," said Lawrence Hunt, the council's program coordinator.

Adding weather protection to a home costs about $750, he said, but it saves as much as 15 to 25 percent on an individual's utility bill.

"I have definitely learned something, something I can apply at home," said Terri Chiaverini, one of the council's board members.

Last year, the council helped more than 1,400 households through its Fuel Fund and energy assistance programs. The council's emergency fuel assistance funding last year exceeded $290,000, about $8,000 above the previous year.

Council employees praised members of the board for taking the tour, saying they believe it is essential that the decision-makers know how the programs operate.

"It's nice to have them actually see the programs," said Delroy Grant, food and nutrition coordinator who oversees the food bank. "That's the way it should be so we can have an effective board."

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