LAKE COUNTY -- For more than half a century, struggling families and individuals in the area have had a hand to help them up. Since 1964, FiveCAP, Inc., has been making a difference in this region of Michigan.

FiveCAP is one of 29 Community Action Agencies in the state, serving Lake, Manistee, Mason and Newaygo counties. Community Action Agencies were formed with the passage of the Economic Opportunities Act (EOA) of 1964, as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's "War on Poverty," which mobilized recourses to combat poverty in the U.S.

FiveCAP got its name because it was the fifth Community Action Agency from a 31-county entity called NORCAP following the federal grassroots initiative.

The mission of FiveCAP is "To support and create opportunities for senior and low-income residents to prosper, live safe and with dignity, by focusing local, state and federal funds and resources to alleviate and eliminate the causes and conditions of poverty. And to address barriers to self-sufficiency, health and education."

FiveCAP acts as an advocate, catalyst and administrator to promote long-term self-sufficiency for the working poor, senior citizens and those who seek a voice.

There are six key areas FiveCAP offers programs and services for: early childhood development and education with Head Start and Early Head Start, housing, nutrition, emergency services, economic development and community support services.

Head Start/Early Head Start

Head Start, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is a comprehensive program to enhance the social, emotional, physical and intellectual development of low-income children in Lake, Newaygo, Manistee and Mason counties.

Parent involvement is an important part of the program. Services included with Head Start are physicals, dental examinations, hearing and vision screenings, immunizations, meals, transportation and field trips.

Early Head Start is a child development program for families with children 0-3 and pregnant women, which offers weekly home visits and play groups, to enhance the growth of infants, toddlers and children, and helps parents develop effective parenting skills.

Housing

Housing offers programs with home weatherization, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, to repair and insulate homes of low-income residents (rental and owners) so the homes can be more energy efficient.

The Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, makes roof and furnace repairs and replacements to low-income owner occupied dwellings. Minor Home Repair program funded by BCAEO. Septic and well repair and replacement.

Nutrition

The Targeted Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides federally purchased surplus food for low-income families on a quarterly basis. The Community Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), also funded by the U.S.D.A., provides nutritional, supplemental food to seniors on a bi-monthly basis.

Gardening and preservation programs, funded by Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), provides seeds and plants to 400 families each year with training to encourage gardening, canning, drying and freezing workshops. The program loans rototillers to participants.

Community Support Services

Support workers, located in all FiveCAP offices, offer direct assistance, in addition to information, referral and counseling for low-income individuals and senior citizens in a number of areas, including but not limited to advocacy and outreach, transportation, educational workshops, crisis intervention, energy/utility assistance, tax preparation assistance, low-interest loan and grant application assistance and more.

They also offer information and referrals pertaining to legal, consumer, food, education, mental and physical health information, and more.

Other programs offered through community support services is Toys for Tots/Gifts for Teens, which distributes toys and gifts to low-income children ages 0 to 18 in Mason and Manistee counties, and Walk for Warmth.

Emergency Services

EFSP is a program for low-income individuals (125 percent or below Federal Poverty Guidelines) who have a documented need for help paying energy/utility costs, and/or assistance with food and shelter.

This program, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is available in Mason, Manistee and Lake counties only. The program Homeless, provides emergency food, shelter and blankets to eligible residents.

Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) offers services such as utility assistance, attaining and maintaining adequate housing and suitable living environments and garden/food preservation workshops.

Walk for Warmth, funded by community donations, provides utility assistance to residents not served by other programs.

For more information on FiveCAP and the programs and services offered, contact your county's FiveCAP office: Mason County at (231) 757-3785; Lake County at (231) 745-4617; Manistee County at (231) 723-8327; and Newaygo County at (231) 689-6688.