The event, 2nd Housing Connect, emphasizes help available to senior citizens and people with disabilities, but also provides information and assistance to anyone at or below the poverty line. Local groups will offer services like income tax help, senior citizen employment programs, application assistance for a home weatherization program and the construction of ramps for those with disabilities.
The 2nd Housing Connect event will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Community Health Systems Activities Center in Jasper.
Trecia Benefield, organizer of the program, said she has been incredibly encouraged by the level of collaboration among the organizations participating in the project.
“That’s what I love about Walker County,” she said. “We’re always working together.”
The event is an augmentation of a meeting Benefield organized in 2009 to promote a program to weatherize homes for those who cannot afford the renovation. The project, administered by the Community Action Partnership of North Alabama and provided from federal stimulus funds, helps reduce the costs of utility bills to residents.
Benefield, a local disability advocate, said that often residents living below the poverty line have older homes that are far less energy efficient. And higher utility bills put a strain on already-stretched budgets, she said.
Benefield said she has seen residents sign up for the program and reduce their power bill by $100 — a large amount of money for someone living on a fixed income.
“So, we don’t just help them for one month; we help them for years to come,” said Paul Kennedy, director of the Walker Area Community Foundation, one of the groups involved with 2nd Housing Connect.
Officials at the 2009 meeting also arranged for around 30 people with disabilities to receive a ramp at their homes, which were installed primarily by members of local churches.
Benefield said many residents were approved for both a ramp and weatherization improvements.
“Not only could they get out of their house, they actually had money to go somewhere, too,” she said.
The event in 2009 saw 147 attendants and arranged for more than $600,000 in repairs to homes in Walker County. Kennedy added that was $600,000 of money outside of the county that went to local contractors.
Benefield said a key to the success of the project was the assistance volunteers provided to residents in applying for the renovations. The volunteers helped to fill out forms and explain requirements to the applicants, many of whom were elderly and intimidated by the process, Benefield said.
“We’ve learned that is one of the biggest barriers,” she said.
Organizers decided to continue and expand the resource program this year. In addition to the weatherization services, representatives from the United Way of Central Alabama will help residents file their tax returns. Also, officials with Habitat for Humanity will be signing up residents who need ramps or their homes painted.
Members of the Middle Alabama Area Agency on Aging will also be present to talk about the group’s services, which include advice for choosing the right Medicare supplemental insurance plan and an employment service for senior citizens.
Other organizations participating in 2nd Housing Connect include the following: Independent Living Resources of Greater Birmingham’s Walker County Office, Walker RSVP, Walker Community Action, Witcher Office Supply and the Walker County Red Cross.
“It’s so exciting,” Benefield said. “Everyone is just coming together to address the needs in the area.”