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The Access Community Action Agency (Access) is the federal and state designated anti-poverty agency serving primarily Windham and Tolland Counties. Access was founded in 1965 as the Windham Area Community Action Program (WACAP) as a result of the federal Economic Security Act of 1964, part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “war on poverty”. In 1994, WACAP moved its primary administrative offices from Danielson, CT to Willimantic, CT and at that time adopted its current name.
To accomplish its mission to create the conditions that empower individuals and families to overcome barriers to economic stability, Access is committed to meet basic human needs, build capacity for income and asset accumulation, and facilitate positive at-risk-youth development. While they continue to remain committed to the critical challenge of helping people manage their poverty, Access is also keenly focused on helping people move out of poverty, and working with communities so they can develop local responses to meet the challenges that limit their ability to thrive.
Programs and services that Access is best known for include: the CT Energy Assistance Program (CEAP), Windham County WIC programs, a 60-bed Emergency Shelter, Weatherization energy conservation services, Lead Elimination Action Program (LEAP), Individual Development Account matched savings programs, Voluntary free Income Tax Assistance (VITA), and Group Homes for adolescent girls.
During the past year, Access used Principles & Practices during each Board meeting to facilitate ongoing dialogue and assessment of best practices within the organization. As part of the regular agenda, discussion was scheduled on one of the six principles to determine which standards were being met, and which need to be addressed. The Board’s Development and Governance Committee (BDGC) sent out information from Principles & Practices ahead of the meetings, and asked board members to prepare by reviewing the material prior to the discussion. The selected principle was then reviewed and assessed during the meeting. Once the initial review of the six Principles was complete, the BDGC committed to ongoing review of one Principle each meeting to make sure that the Board is staying on track. It’s up to the BDGC to determine when and if the full board needs to revisit any of the Principles.
This process has enabled the full Board, and in particular the members of the Board’s Development and Governance Committee, to engage in advanced planning for and constant review of best practices for the organization. This commitment to self-assessment geared toward quality improvement has therefore become a part of the Board’s culture. In most cases, the Board was already operating in line with best practices; however, several improvements have been made. One initiative that was undertaken as a result of this process was the development of a CEO succession plan, which Access did not previously have. Additionally, through the Board discussions, the role and membership of the audit committee was clarified.
“Principles & Practices has been an invaluable guide for our organization,” said Access President/CEO, Peter DeBiasi. “Through ongoing self-reflection, we’ve been able to see how we measure up to best practices. While mostly reassuring the board that they’re doing things the right way, the process also helps us identify aspects of our infrastructure and operations that can be improved. Keeping best practices as a key focus only helps us better serve our customers.”
Has your nonprofit implemented our Principles & Practices in an effort to improve the quality, responsibility and accountability of the organization? If so, please let us know! Contact Melissa Harris at CT Nonprofits at 860-525-5080, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.