“The real problem is you get a job, and you are only making minimum wage, and you can’t live off that,” says Brian Hommes, director of the Ashtabula Dream Center at West 57th Street. “It seems like in this county, you either make a lot of money or minimum wage.”
See POVERTY, B2
Between $6 million and $8 million flows through Ashtabula County Community Action every year, says Richard Pepperney, its executive director. The agency’s programs range from Head Start and child-health services to home-delivered meals for the elderly and utility assistance. The agency employs 180 associates, making it one of the county’s major employers.
The Head Start program, which serves children ages 3 to 5 whose parents are at, or below, 100 percent of the poverty level, runs at capacity: 371 children. While the stereotype of a Head Start parent is someone on public assistance, the statistics show otherwise. Of the 339 families enrolled in Ashtabula County Head Start at the end of 2007, 45 percent had a parent working full time and 19 percent had a parent working part time. Eight percent of the parents were in higher education or other training.
Likewise for the WIC program, which serves Women, Infants and Children who are at or below 185 percent of poverty. The program has 3,600 participants in Ashtabula County.
“There are a lot of working folks who use WIC as a nutritional supplement,” Pepperney says.
Stephanie Patriarco is director of the county’s Head Start program. She says many of the families she works with are in their situations because of environment, bad choices and lack of opportunity. The good news is that assistance is available with child care and education expenses to help the poor improve their lot in life.
Becky Coder, a family services coordinator with Head Start, lacked a high school diploma when she started accessing the program’s services 23 years ago. With encouragement and empowerment from a program worker, Coder got her general equivalency diploma and a driver’s license, was hired by Head Start and earned her associate’s degree. She’s now working on her bachelor’s.