2019 ANNUAL MEETING
25 September 2019
This is the highest turnout in the history of the agency, even topping the year HUD secretary Henry Cisneros spoke. There are over 250 good people here. Thanks to each and every one of you for giving a damn about the community in which you live. This may be a bit self-serving but there is something to be said about a community that is always trying to make itself better. We have well over 1,000 volunteers who assist in one way or another, some as board members, others just once, some who volunteer selflessly two, three, four days a week. We have thousands of donors, some barely able to give even a few dollars, but they give $25 or 50 or more. We have businesses, especially banks, whose donations are large enough to help us make over whole city blocks. We have friends who are generous after they have left this world behind. And we have political allies, both Democrats and Republicans, who are there when we need them.
I like to think that this is an agile, powerful, financially fit, neighborhood-based community development organization. Hopefully, as a result of your being with us today, you will agree.
So, this is what you can expect from your community action agency in the fiscal year that began July one. Two or three of these initiatives will get only cryptic explanations because they are not yet public information but the press conferences are planned over the next few weeks. If I divulge too much today, the press won’t cover it. You know how they are.
In no particular order, here they are:
We are in the process of implementing a plan for strengthening Allentown’s center-city neighborhoods by concentrating the rehabilitation of properties on one or two blocks at a time. That’s all I can say to avoid tipping off someone trying to get a scoop. That announcement will be made in the next couple of weeks. To complement that project, we will hold a second press conference to announce a new initiative we are doing with TD Bank.
And speaking of plans, we are hard at work developing a new Neighborhood Partnership Program for the neighborhoods right outside this building. We expect this plan to focus on the development of our future labor supply so that today’s young people have cause for hope and we will do what we can to convince the PA DCED to embrace it.
Chris Hudock and Pat Johnson’s comments were the first time the merger of the Lehigh and Northampton Counties Revolving Loan Fund with Community Action, to be administered by our lending subsidiary, The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund, were mentioned in public. It has been a long and challenging process (we are, after all dealing with, in part, the federal government, which doesn’t like to make anything too easy).
We also brought the Seed Farm, the unique incubator for new farmers, into the agency and under the Second Harvest Food Bank. Job One is to stabilize the program, get it more sustainable, and build a program that can do more of the innovation for which it is known.
Administratively, we will be consolidating our array of housing-related programs into a single, more agile, and more productive unit.
Within the month, we will be announcing a major new initiative on race.
In Bethlehem, we hope to be helpful to the city as it turns its focus to a neighborhood on the north side of the river that is dealing with some of the challenges that are all too common in our urban communities. To the credit of Mayor Bob Donchez and his community development director and former Community Action board president, Alicia Miller Karner, and others in City Hall, they are getting a jump on this neighborhood before its circumstances become too grim and prohibitively expensive to correct. We are excited by the prospect of teaming with the city.
In the Slate Belt, our attention turns to the tiny borough of Portland, a community with so much potential, and then on to Pen Argyl. So much is happening up there and Slate Belt Rising is in the middle of it all, with Community Action staffing its Council of Governments (also announced here for the first time in public) and playing a pivotal role with the LVPC in the development of a multi-municipal comprehensive plan.
We are in the early stages of challenging the Lehigh Valley’s credit unions to do the right thing. They have the image of being the workingman’s bank, with nonprofit status that lets them off the hook on certain taxes; also, there is no Community Reinvestment Act to force them to, in fact, reinvest in their community. Consequently, they are given a distinct advantage in the marketplace over our friends in the banking community who, as you know, actively reinvest in all corners of their market and pay taxes. My friend and ally, David Jones, and I had a recent meeting with the CEO of the largest credit union in this community and let them know that we know they reject Latino applications at a rate three times higher than they do white applicants; they are four times more likely to reject an African-American mortgage applicant.
Friends, these are just the new initiatives. You can count on us to continue to deliver our best possible product at the Second Harvest Food Bank, the Sixth Street Shelter, and its longer-term transitional housing programs, our entrepreneurial assistance, neighborhood revitalization projects, weatherization and other initiatives I hope you will read about at your convenience.
The resources we have to produce this massive volume of output are not ours. They are yours: your tax dollars, your charitable contributions, your talent, wisdom, and time. But I can assure you that every single person in this agency is working themselves to near exhaustion to make our world a better place. I’d like to offer our thanks to them for their hard work.
And our world needs to be a better place. Frankly, I used to believe that we understood our problems and made decisions individually and collectively whether and to what degree we want to solve those problems. But, over the past few years our world has been scrambled, conventional wisdom set aside, the clock turned back, history forgotten. It’s okay again to waste energy. It’s okay to bring our world to the brink of war. It’s okay to forget your manners and scoff at diplomacy. It’s okay to hate someone just because they don’t look like you.
If you are here today, you have a sense of decency. You know what a civilized society should look like. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, brown or white, Republican, Democrat, gay, straight, red state, blue state, Christian, Muslim, Jew. It doesn’t matter if you’re a redneck or a liberal elite, doesn’t matter if you are young or old, urban, suburban, rural. You know that we can do better, so much better. And we can do even better still, if we all work… together. This may sound hokey, but there is nothing we as Americans can’t do if we put our collective resources together with the will to do it.
I would argue that we share so much more in common and have so much more reason to work together than we do in the things that separate us. The words “liberal” and “conservative” really don’t mean that much. At Community Action, we are liberals because we believe the market can be tweaked to work better for more people. We are conservatives because we believe people need to accept responsibility for themselves and their actions. We are liberals because we want to help. We are conservatives because we don’t do anything for anyone; instead, we teach people how to solve their own problems and not be dependent on anyone. We are liberals because we think we can do more for others. We are conservatives because we are cheap.
I know I sound angry. I am angry. Too many judge people by the way they look; too few have even met someone who actually looks different from them. Too many think we waste too much money on welfare; too few realize that our welfare system is so bad that only a few thousand people in our two counties with a population in excess of 650,000 are even on welfare. Too many make decisions considering only what’s best for them; too few consider the impact on others of the decisions they make. Too many have too much; too few share.
As most of you know, my health is taking me down. I think I have less than two years of effectiveness left in me. This community needs more people to stand up, challenge those who would hold us back, have the vision of what we can be and the resolve to get there. You will meet with resistance. But engage those who resist – their input can make your ideas better and your implementation more effective.
Every one of us can do more. Every single one of us. We can push people to vote, write checks, reach out to a child or elder, call an elected official, challenge your friends to get involved, write checks, paint the Sixth Street Shelter, write a letter to the editor or, did I say? Write checks?
We can make our world a better place. But we need to do it with a sense of urgency. Patience is no virtue – it is a luxury of the fortunate, of the comfortable, of those who would protect the status quo.
We can, indeed, make our world a better place.
But one thing – one thing – is very, very clear: we can only get there together. Join us!