03/11/13 — WAGES: Taking care of the community for more than 3 decades

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WAGES: Taking care of the community for more than 3 decades

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 11, 2013 1:46 PM

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Amir Bowden, 9 months, holds out a toy phone to WAGES employee Cynthia Hines as they play in one of the classrooms at WAGES last week.

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Dale Harris and his wife, Issi Harris, take out lunches from their truck while doing their deliveries for Meals on Wheels, one of the programs managed by WAGES.

Head Start.

Meals on Wheels.

Foster Grandparents.

These are familiar programs to many.

But mention WAGES, and some might not realize that it serves as the central clearinghouse for these and other service agencies, 11 in all.

"WAGES -- Wayne Action Group for Economic Solvency -- is a community action agency," explained Dr. Marlee Ray, the organization's executive director. "There are community action agencies across North Carolina. Most came about in the late '60s as a part of President (Lyndon B.) Johnson's war on poverty.

"One of the criteria at that time, which was very important, is that each community identified their needs and therefore, identified what programs and services would be most beneficial in their community."

Because each community customized its own version and established its own name to reflect its purpose, sometimes there has been a bit of confusion about exactly what WAGES is, Ms. Ray said.

"When you see Red Cross, they have a picture in their minds. When you see Girl Scouts, Boys & Girls Club or Communities in Schools, they have a sense of what that means. Because the name WAGES doesn't specify it, many people often don't have the specific recognition. They know WAGES Meals on Wheels, WAGES Head Start, or know about WAGES weatherization, but they may not know all the programs."

WAGES, she said, is the "hub" for multiple programs. Its mission is to help people improve quality of life and to gain independence.

"In the early '60s, Bryan Sutton (former executive director) led the group to establish a community action agency and in doing that they did community meetings, they did community forums with a diverse range of people across the community and established what was identified as a community need, and I think it's powerful that 48 years later, the quality of work was so high and we focused on true needs that it's relevant today," she said. "(He established) a still-viable network that was focused, took its charge seriously, spent the money wisely, measured successes and evaluated programs so that growth was going to be based on community needs."

Chartered by a resolution of the Wayne County commissioners on Nov. 15, 1965, the first offices were in an old house downtown, with four Head Start classes downstairs and offices on the second floor. It moved to the former Virginia Street School, expanding to develop neighborhood service centers, with five around the city and one each in Mount Olive and Fremont. The main office is now on Royall Avenue.

WAGES efforts span from the youngest segment of the population to the oldest, Ms. Ray said. Among the reasons it continues to thrive are the partnerships between agencies in the county and the "ripple effect" programs have on the community.

Programs served by WAGES include 26 Head Start classrooms for ages 3-5, 20 classrooms of Early Head Start for 256 children from birth to age 3; Wayne County First Steps, intensive in-home case management for 62 at-risk children; the Fatherhood Initiative, providing training and activities for men; and a Self-Sufficiency Program, providing skill development and education working toward gaining employment.

Many are familiar with the nutrition program for the elderly, Ms. Ray said. Meals on Wheels currently serves meals daily to 3,325 clients, while another 157 clients receive meals through the congregate meal program. With 1,800 volunteers working in the program, an impressive 109,316 meals were distributed in the community last year, she said.

Senior programs include Senior Companions, in-home services for the elderly, and Foster Grandparents, who mentor children with disabilities.

Other services include WAGES Weatherization, which offers heat replacement and weatherizes homes in Wayne, Greene and Lenoir counties. It also oversees 55 units at Walnut Street School Apartments for low-income elderly.

While WAGES employs 190 workers and there are numerous clients served, Ms. Ray said volunteers are always needed, be it for any of the programs, or to step in to answer phones, update the website or assist in the office.

For more information on WAGES or to volunteer, visit www.wagesnc.org or all 919-734-1178.

WAGES has also published a community resource guide, which is available at the office at 601 E. Royall Ave.