https://www.facebook.com/TheKeyNewsjournal

Rough Welcome for New Community Action Director

Posted October 14, 2013

Story and Photos by Patrice K. Muhammad, Editor

Malcolm Ratchford, Director, Community Action Council.

Malcolm Ratchford, Director, Community Action Council.

Over the past 17 years, Malcolm Ratchford worked his way up the company ladder to become Executive Director of Community Action Council. He began his career with Community Action in 1996 and began strategically working his way toward the top which was always his goal. Malcolm said, “I was probably promoted each year. I knew being at the top I could be a change agent.’’

But Ratchford couldn’t have predicted that a government shutdown would threaten the Council’s Head Start program and vandals would nearly burn down the playground for their Head Start center in the newly renovated Russell School building at Fourth and Upper Street all before he had two months on the job.

“My predecessor, Jack Burch, said to me in a joking manner, ‘I swear I didn’t mean to put you in this situation,’’ Ratchford said.

“I would probably say that it is one of the roughest starts. However, I am of the opinion that sometimes you’re challenged and it’s good to be challenged early, that way you gain experience,’’ said the optimistic Ratchford. “One day I’ll look back and say man, in my first 45 days I had a government shut down and a burnt up playground.”

Ratchford’s first career was as an elementary school teacher. ‘’I never wanted to work with children. I wanted to work for children and work with families,’’ he said. Highest on his list of priorities is eliminating poverty, one family at a time.

‘’[The Council] has given people tools, like help with GED’s and Head Start, but what we can’t show is how many people we’ve gotten out of poverty. We have to be able to show economic mobility of a family. There is some tracking and reporting that needs to be done,’’ admits Ratchford.

With proof of performance like that, Ratchford expects to get more financial support from the community so that they can become less dependent on government funding.

THE SHUTDOWN

Community Action Council’s stated mission is to “combat poverty’’. Operating in Lexington-Fayette, Bourbon, Harrison and Nicholas Counties, the council provides safety net services like emergency heating assistance and preventive services like Head Start and home weatherization.

A full 80% of the Council’s funding is from various divisions of the Federal government. There are 43 different programs that utilize funds from the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Education and Community Development Block Grant funds, to name a few.

Knowing of the predicted Federal Govement shutdown, Ratchford stayed awake late on September 30 to see what was going to happen.

“I was in the same place last year. Seems like every year we are in the same place, watching. Last year, a few minutes before 12 (Midnight), they passed the bill. Unfortunately it didn’t happen this time.’’

When the partial government shutdown happened, the Head Start programs across the country were not able to withdraw funds from their Federal accounts.

Ratchford explains why that hurt most agencies, “We don’t stock up a lot of reserve of funds. We are dependent on the ability to draw down funds a day before payroll.’’ Federal regulation does not allow the agency to pull out all of their allocated funds at once. As Head Start programs across the nation announced closures, Community Actions program remained open to serve the public and they accessed an available line of credit with a bank so that workers could be paid.

“We made a decision to stay open. Our staff needs to work. It hasn’t been determined if we’d get paid if we sat out. But if we close our doors, we lose revenue from child care,’’ he explained.

THE FIRE

Malcolm got a call from the Russell School center manager. According to Ratchford the manager said, “They’re out here burning the playground down.’’

October 3rd vandals burned the rubber mulch, ground equipment and the tarp which protects children from the sun.

“We’ve had vandalism before; burned tarp, equipment, broken rod iron fence, graffiti/obscene language. We were battling it, but as of late it’s getting more severe,’’ says Malcolm.

Malcolm acknowledges that the public resented the new playground associated with the Head Start program. It was in a gated and locked area and the playground equipment, just yards away, at the Dunbar Center was torn down due to safety concerns.

“Relation wise, I’m sure it was what started the conflict. We listened, and allowed evening access to our playground. We went door to door telling [neighbors] that they could use it, just take care of the playground. But it never happened.  Every morning we find needles, alcohol bottles and have to clean it up especially on a Monday. We got a grant to open a new playground, right next to it but apparently they don’t like it.

Ratchford is committed to working out the issues with the community.

Ratchford wants to see 40,000 families with a reduced poverty level or taken completely out of poverty within 5-10 years. ‘’We serve 30,000 people each year. We should be able to do that amount at least,’’ he said. Admittedly, there are some barriers to employment such as the fact that few employers want to hire formerly convicted felons. But he will be working to make sure that people begin to realize that poverty affects everyone in the community when those who can’t obtain meaningful employment resort to crime or need financial assistance from sources like Community Action. Ratchford believes that allowing people to redeem themselves through honest work will help the community in the long run by eventually eliminating the need for the Council’s safety net services.

 To contribute to Community Action or learn about the services they provide visit: www.commaction.org 

To report any information related to the arson fire set on the playground call 859-231-5672 or tips can be emailed to arsontips@lexingtonky.gov.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login