Employees of an agency that helps the down-and-out are learning to survive the hard times themselves.
Last week, the North Idaho Community Action Agency, a quarter-million dollars in debt, announced that it was filing for bankruptcy.
Only a handful of employees remain with the programs for the needy that the agency managed, and some only on a temporary basis. The agency employed from 25 to 40 people depending on the season.
“The folks working for the food banks around the counties, sounds like they’re out of a job,” said Gerald Garvey, former executive director of the agency.
Since May, St. Vincent de Paul has been running the Coeur d’Alene food bank. The state Department of Health and Welfare has a contract with Humanix Personnel Services to operate other food banks in the Panhandle.
On Aug. 1, the Community Action Agency in Lewiston is scheduled to take over the food banks, energy assistance program, weatherization and Community Service Block Grants in North Idaho. St. Vincent’s will run Senior Housing and Child Care Feeding programs.
Gary Domanski, the former program director for Energy Assistance, elected not to remain when the state explained that he’d be working for Humanix for lower wages and no benefits.
Now he’s washing windows and trying to launch a counseling practice, while a fellow former NICAA employee is talking about starting a handyman business, he said.
“I was collecting unemployment. I hated it,” Domanski said. “I’ve always advocated to my clients, ‘Back off the television, build something with your hands.’ So I started taking my own advice.”
Domanski is concerned about the fate of low-income programs in North Idaho. The wealth of experience that veteran NICAA employees had will be lost and services will suffer if those employees aren’t retained, he said.
He doubts many will be.
“We were associated with an agency that wasn’t looking good financially,” he explained.
Garvey blames NICAA’s financial problems on the decision to purchase a building on Best Avenue. He said the building was purchased to avoid spending grant money on rent. While NICAA believed it could use federal grant money to pay the interest on the building, the state said it could not.
State administrators of the federal grants said the ill-fated purchase was only part of the problem.
“It was a combination of investment or spending decisions, management problems, a variety of problems that led to the ultimate closure,” said Patti Campbell, chief of the state’s Individual Assistance Program.
While Garvey and Domanski worry about the quality of services that an agency in Lewiston could provide to North Idaho’s needy, Campbell is confident that they’ll be “the same, or better.”
“The Community Action Agency in Lewiston is extremely well-run, very well organized,” she said, adding that it offered more services than NICAA did.
The Community Action Agency now is hiring for positions in North Idaho and taking applications from people interested in serving on the agency’s advisory board for North Idaho, said Lisa Stoddard, community services director.
A few current employees already have applied. But, she said, “we weren’t able to guarantee hiring.”
Taking on the programs in the five northern counties will double the size of the agency, but Stoddard was confident that the organizational model established in the Lewiston area will work in North Idaho, too.
“We’d be dumb not to have (logistical) concerns,” she said. “We will have local staff in place who will be responsible to staff here in Lewiston.”
, DataTimes MEMO: Cut in the Spokane edition.
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