Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency Named to 20 Best Places to Work for 2022

Pat Moody - MoodyontheMarket.com

Jun 20, 2022

Best Places to Work - Class of 2022

The “Super Powers” of invisibility and resiliency certainly came in handy this year for the award-winning team at the Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency headquartered in Benton Harbor. The team’s response to the City of Benton Harbor’s water crisis has been instrumental in helping resolve major issues from day one. When the agency learned of the community’s need on Friday, September 24th last year, by Thursday the 30th they had welcomed two semi-loads of bottled water at their warehouse in the city and organized a full-tilt water distribution plan. More than 12-hundred households were served in the first week of the crisis alone, and as more community partners answered the call, SMCAA remained on the frontlines, distributing bottled water 4-days a week and even on some weekends. When the fall brought a watermain break in the city, further exacerbating the need for clean drinking water, the team joined United Way of SW Michigan in providing nearly 7,000 cases of water in one day! All this side-by-side with regular ongoing efforts to help feed families in need as an every-day task makes the work there not only challenging, but decidedly rewarding for the team, earning them a solid slot among the 20 Best Places to Work in Southwest Michigan for 2022. Read on for more of their story, and the amazing things they are doing on a regular basis for the community-at-large.

What is the name of the business you are nominating?

Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency

Who are the owner(s) and/or principals in this company?

Nonprofit Organization / Kim Smith Oldham, Executive Director; Minnie Warren, Board Chairperson

Business Contact Information

Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency (SMCAA), 185 E. Main St, Suite 303, Benton Harbor, MI 49022

How many people work at the company you are nominating?

24

Tell us the story behind the nominated company. What does it do, and what sets them apart from other companies in the region?

Community Action was born in the United States in 1962 following President Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and passing of the Economic Opportunity Act. Today, there are over 1,000 Community Action agencies across the country, with 28 agencies in Michigan. These agencies offer a wide range of services to their communities through the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), and aid the low-income populations within their service regions.

SMCAA is currently celebrating its 40th anniversary of servicing Southwest Michigan. The Agency was founded in 1982 when it began servicing Van Buren County. Cass County was added in 1986, and Berrien County in 1992. In 2022, SMCAA services the tri-county area, as well as Allegan County and St. Joseph County in certain programming.

Community Action is a unique nonprofit. Each agency must fulfill 58 Organizational Standards annually in order to qualify for CSBG funding. These Standards include areas of excellence in Community Needs Assessments, Risk Assessment, Fiduciary Oversight, and Strategic Planning. Each agency is governed by a tripartite Board of Directors, meaning Board members equally represent the three sectors: public, private, and consumer. The consumer sector is the highest priority when it comes to a Community Action Board, as this allows the Board to be well-informed about issues affecting the poor and facilitate communication between low-income representatives and the private and public sectors.

SMCAA is dedicated to empowering diverse people in need and supporting their journey towards economic security.

In your own words, why do you think this company deserves to be declared to be one of the 20 Best Places to Work in Michigan’s Great Southwest?

SMCAA has been doing amazing work for the most vulnerable populations across Southwest Michigan for the past 40 years. However, in recent years, the need for human service work has increased dramatically. This year alone, SMCAA is facilitating 44 diverse programs and services to the low-income residents of Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren Counties. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2021, SMCAA serviced 4,629 unduplicated individuals. In FY22 (which we are only 58% through), SMCAA has already serviced 5,608 unduplicated individuals! These numbers do not express the assistance provided to those individuals who received wraparound services from the agency either. With under 25 employees and servicing 3 counties, SMCAA is doing wonders in our community and helping the lives of many.

Some of the key programs SMCAA has/is facilitating currently include Weatherization, Homeowner Rehabilitation, COVID Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA), and COVID Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES). The Agency also provides monthly food commodities to seniors and quarterly commodities to families — serving over 54,000 boxes of food in 2021 alone!

Most notably, SMCAA was the first organization to respond to the elevated levels of lead in the City of Benton Harbor’s water supplies. Beginning September 30, 2021, SMCAA has offered bottled water to the city’s residents, as well as housed the stored bottled water for all other water distribution locations. The Agency located and rented additional warehouse space in order to answer this dire community need, and will continue to be a community partner in this Initiative.

What makes workers proud to say they work there, and keeps them a part of the team?

Every SMCAA team member plays an intricate part in delivering programs and services to the low-income populations in Southwest Michigan. I believe the agency’s staff retention speaks for itself — of our current 24 employees, 10 have worked at SMCAA for at least ten years and 5 of those employees have been with SMCAA for over twenty years!

Similarly, overall client satisfaction of SMCAA is at 92.2%, and staff-client communication satisfaction rates at 95.3%. Happy team members make for happy clients! One client said, “[SMCAA Staff Member] treated me so nice and answered all my questions. To me, they love their job and I can’t think of anything they could do better. SMCAA is the best!” (This report can be found at www.smcaa.com/reports.)

Some quotes from our Board of Directors:

“I am amazed at the work all of the SMCAA team does and am thankful for their dedication to our community.”
“I am proud to be a part of SMCAA, as I feel that they work very hard to serve their counties in the best ways possible.”
“The dedication and perseverance of the entire staff team is unparalleled – they work tirelessly to empower diverse people in need. During the pandemic, the need for SMCAA’s services skyrocketed. From emergency help with rent, mortgage or utilities, temporary housing shelter, or food pantries, SMCAA offers programs to help.”
Let’s pretend you’re writing a review for Yelp! or Trip Advisor. Give us your best recommendation for the nominated company that would make the rest of us wish we worked there, too.

SMCAA is the type of organization that provides that extra nudge needed for you to reach your goals. They do not believe in hand-downs, only hand-ups. When you have that one emergency that sets you on the edge — a lost job, a medical issue, a separation — SMCAA is there for you. The team genuinely cares about the entire community and is dedicated to helping people and changing lives.

What three key words best describe why this company is a Best Places to Work caliber company?

Supportive
Caring
Challenging
As a Best Places to Work company “Super Hero,” what are the two most magical “Super Powers” this company seems to have on a day-to-day basis? (i.e., Ability to read minds, fly, invisibility, etc) And why?

Super Power One: Invisibility

Super Power Two: Resiliency

Tell us about the leadership of the nominated company and what they do in order to:

A] Keep spirits and motivation high? — The work we do is HARD, but spirits remain high. Leadership encourages a work-life balance, and staff enjoys generous PTO. The team also strives to make lunch together almost daily, or at the very least, order delivery together. Leadership does well at giving recognition to all staff members and thanking everyone individually for their contribution to the agency’s mission.

B] Keep innovation and fresh ideas advancing? — Leadership is constantly (weekly) attending webinars and round table discussions to bring innovating ideas to the agency. It is also asked of all staff members to bring their ideas to monthly all-staff meetings and share with leadership openly.

C] Keep communications open? — SMCAA lives by an “open door” mindset. Unless in training or attending a virtual meeting, all leadership keep their office doors open. Staff are encouraged to communicate with leadership as necessary.

Explain a specific “wow!” moment in this company’s history that is virtually “Hall of Fame” or “Best Practices” worthy, as an example to other companies in the region.

Most recently, SMCAA’s response to the City of Benton Harbor’s water crisis comes to mind. The agency learned of the community’s need on Friday, September 24, 2021, and by Thursday, September 30th had welcomed two semi-loads of bottled water at our warehouse and organized a water distribution. Over 1,200 households were served in that first week of the crisis. As more community partners answered the call, SMCAA remained on the frontlines, distributing bottled water 4 days a week, and even on some weekends. Then on October 21st, a water main broke in the city causing even more need for clean drinking water. SMCAA, with the help of United Way of Southwest Michigan, answered this need by providing almost 7,000 cases of water to the residents of the city in just that one day. It was with organization, experience, and dedication that SMCAA answered these crises, and continue to do so.

Best Places to Work have a reputation for not only working hard, but also for playing hard.

A] How does the nominated company honor or reward success? — SMCAA recognizes its hardworking staff with a summer luncheon and holiday dinner. When an individual staff member receives a reward, leadership shares the news with its State agency so the individual also receives recognition by the State and all Michigan Community Action agencies.

B] How does the nominated company socialize as a team? — In addition to the summer luncheon and holiday dinner, SMCAA socializes as a team almost every day by making lunches together. Whether someone brings in their air fryer for hot dogs, a griddle for eggs and bacon, or a panini maker for sandwiches, lunch is another all-team event.

C] How does the nominated company get involved in community events? — SMCAA encourages its staff members to participate in community events, such as those offered by Michigan Works!, United Way, Cornerstone Alliance, and the Southwest Michigan Regional Chamber.

D] How does the nominated company celebrate life? — Whether it be agency retirement parties or baby showers, SMCAA has been blessed to celebrate the lives of many of its employees over the years. A fun perk, many employees’ children and grandchildren are guests at the agency and stop in from time-to-time to say hello to the entire team.

Write a brief, but compelling, recruitment ad telling people about why they should come and work there, too.

Looking for a Career and not just a Job? Join our Team to Help People and Change Lives.

What one thing is special about your nominated company that most people in the community have no idea actually happens there, but should be shouted from the rooftops because it’s that cool?

Those who work at SMCAA know that there is no way to fully express the heartwarming emotions felt when a client thanks you for making a difference in their life. There are many happy tears shed at SMCAA — from both sides of the desk!

Give us three employee perks or benefits that you think make the company you have nominated worthy of a Best Places to Work trophy?

Paid Time Off – starts at 4 hours accrued per pay period and increases with years employed
Agency-Paid Health Insurance
Agency-Matching 401k
If this is your company and you win, write the best headline ever for your company newsletter describing your successful selection to the list, and be as specific as you can about how you would celebrate the win if money were no object.

“Hotdog Cart dogs for All! No more crockpot dogs for the remainder of the year!”

This may be an inside joke at the Agency, but it would be the best headline ever for our team!