Minnesota Valley Action Council: An agency that quietly impacts communities

NEW ULM – As one staff member, Pam Krzmarzick, put is, the Minnesota Valley Action Council (MVAC) is one of those community action agencies that do meaningful, impactful programs, but do not necessarily receive a lot of name recognition.

With offices in Brown and eight other counties, MVAC manages programs such as Head Start, a thrift store, and youth and senior employment.

More specifically, MVAC serves the counties of Blue Earth, Brown, Faribault, LeSueur, Martin, Nicollet, Sibley, Waseca and Watonwan.

Its programs vary from county to county. Specifically, they include the following diverse examples: Dislocated Worker, Energy Assistance, Emergency Food and Shelter, Family Assets for Independence in Minnesota, Food Stamp Employment and Training, Head Start, Homeless Prevention, Information and Referral, Minnesota Family Investment Program Employment Services, Minnesota Housing Finance Agency (MHFA) Fix Up Fund, MHFA Community Fix Up Fund, MHFA Rehabilitation Loan, Senior Employment, Weatherization, Wheel Get There, Workforce Investment Act, Youth Employment and Training and other programs.

“A big part of what we do is just employing people,” says Krzmarzick, manager of the New Ulm thrift store.

“MVAC, a community action agency and part of the Minnesota Community Action Partnership, the largest social service network in Minnesota, is for communities, not for profit,” writes John Woodwick, Executive Director, in information shared by Krzmarzick.

“MVAC has served the people of south central Minnesota since 1965. We believe that hard work should be valued and rewarded, that working people are struggling, and that we at MVAC provide opportunities for people and communities…”

“Minnesota Valley Action Council has learned long ago that no one can accomplish good things in isolation. It takes involvement and contributions from many people and many different sectors of our communities in order to produce positive outcomes in people’s march towards self-reliance,” writes Woodwick.

A small but telling example quoted by Krzmarzick illustrates this statement: a new community collaboration pioneered experimentally this year in New Ulm; a joint effort between the local MVAC thrift store and Martin Luther College: the store placed a trailer on campus as students left the dorms for summer, to collect items that may otherwise have been discarded.

The impact is multiple, notes Krzmarzick. Items ended up being re-used and recycled, and the effort also helped reduce waste going into the landfill…

By the numbers

Just last year, MVAC staff, Board members, community partners, volunteers, elected officials and private employers and individuals accomplished the following, and much more, according to Woodwick:

Invested nearly $21 million on behalf of people living in the nine counties, the majority of which was spent in local businesses and with local contractors on behalf of people experiencing low income.

Received nearly $2.4 million in in-kind donations to assist efforts on behalf of 28,000 people experiencing poverty in the region.

Provided direct employment for 249 people in South Central Minnesota.

The New Ulm thrift store itself employs one person full time and six people part time, points out Krzmarzick.

Assisted 63 people to secure low-interest loans to make needed improvements to their homes.

Provided free tax preparation services and filed 446 tax returns which resulted in nearly $1 million in tax refunds and credits for low-income households.

Provided the conditions that allow thousands of people to purchase clothing and other household items at very affordable prices through its thrift stores.

Thrift stores in Mankato and New Ulm received nearly $630,000 in donated products and provided training opportunities to more than 450 people who contributed more than 20,000 hours of labor.

The thrift stores produced more than $170,000 of revenue over expenses, to go back into programs.

Volunteers worked more than 5,000 hours at the New Ulm thrift store, specified Krzmarzick. Some put in a couple of hours a day after work; others put in four hours four to five days a week.

As little, or as much, volunteer time as is possible, is appreciated.

“We are always in need of volunteers,” stressed Krzmarzick. “They help keep our costs down [and contribute more to community programs].”

Assisted more than 1,400 adults in gaining employment, through work force development.

Helped weatherize 222 homes.

Assisted residential and commercial building rehabilitation projects, generating nearly half a million spent at local businesses.

Provided employment services to more than 400 people who lost jobs during business closings.

Provided nearly 150 people with the opportunity to secure their own transportation through the MVAC Wheel Get There initiative; 150 cars were donated to the program.

Provided nearly 1,000 low-income children with quality pre-school opportunities through HeadStart.

Provided 318 at-risk teens an opportunity to learn and earn through paid work experiences, planning for careers and achieving success in education and training.

Ensured that nearly 1,000 children were screened for hearing and vision through HeadStart.

Ensured that more than 500 pre-school aged children received a dental exam, many for the first time.

Assisted nearly 7,400 people with their heating bills.

Assisted nearly 500 people with rental expenses, providing nearly $750,000 in rental assistance payments.

(These are just highlights. All numbers were rounded.)

(Photos, interview by Kremi Spengler)

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