Central Missouri Community Action (CMCA) Community Organizer Martha Ray is retiring at the end of the month after 13 years with the agency. While leaving is bittersweet, Ray said she has full …
Central Missouri Community Action (CMCA) Community Organizer Martha Ray is retiring at the end of the month after 13 years with the agency. While leaving is bittersweet, Ray said she has full confidence in her replacement, Jenn Millard, who will officially take over Oct. 1.
“I have enjoyed my time here in this community, but I’ve done as much as I can do,” said Ray, who began working part-time for CMCA helping people with their electricity bills. “When I moved here from the state of California, I had retired from a good job, but I wouldn’t say I really had a passion for it. Working with CMCA though was very rewarding. I loved helping people who were truly in need.”
When her supervisor left, Ray applied for the job and was hired as the Community Organizer.
“A lot has changed over the years, but I have loved all of it,” said Ray. “I’ve had a level of independence to do what was necessary with families and others in the community. It has been invigorating and inspiring.”
While those in need of assistance can still visit the office, online options have made it more challenging in some ways. “People were used to coming in, and families had to learn to preplan,” said Ray. “They’ve grown with the changes, and they’re much better staying on top of things so they’re not in crisis.”
Over the last 13 years, CMCA has created upwards of a dozen community action teams to address the causes and conditions of poverty that have been identified in the county.
“We have held countless meetings to help organize, galvanize, and inspire hundreds of our residents, community leaders, and elected officials,” said Ray. “Through community organizing, we have completed numerous projects within the county that were measured and reported on to the state and the federal government. These projects focused on our families, our community, our youth, and our future leaders. Each and every one was intended to impact poverty and the effect it has had in our community.”
Osage County has addressed mental health (through System of Care), drug addiction (through the Osage County Anti Drug Community Action Team (OC-ADCAT), adult literacy (through ASAP), economic development (through Spotlight on Osage County, GVEZ, and Agritourism), diversity (through The Human Library), healthcare (restarting the Health Department, Faith Community Nursing, and Community Health Fairs), employment (through Workforce Prep- Listen and Learn Breakfasts and Skill Up), hunger (Tomato Project through the Good Shepherd Food Pantry) and education (Head Start recruitment through fall festivals, Photovoice, REALL and budgeting classes).
Ray said her favorite programs were Spotlight on Osage County and The Human Library, which most involved the community.
“They inspired and woke up more people that I would have imagined, and garnered the support and the acceptance of partners as well as community,” said Ray.
Spotlight on Osage County was the direct result of CMCA’s first and only mid-Missouri Community Alliance Summit in 2010. Each county created a Community Action Team and during the Alliance created a vision and mission designed to drive its future community work. The Osage vision identified almost a decade ago was, “A thriving community of businesses, farms and modernized infrastructure complete with competitive schools, recreational opportunities, quality healthcare and housing that makes Osage County a desirable place to live, grow and prosper.”
To begin that journey CMCA chose to bring the business community together with residents to educate and enlighten others as to what they bring to the county in terms of revenue, jobs, basic needs, and opportunities. The first Spotlight on Osage County was held in June of 2011.
These were held monthly for the next six years, with 67 events in total. Each event saw 20-40 participants and every business, organization, and agency in the county had an opportunity to present their story to county residents. Each presentation was also presented in the Unterrified Democrat.
The Human Library was a project that began in the year 2000 in Denmark. People become books and told their story to the reader, a perfect project for the Show Me State.
“The project, designed to address prejudice and embrace diversity, brings people together that would normally never have a chance to meet,” said Ray.
This was the first of its kind in the state of Missouri and held in partnership with then Linn State Technical College. “We anticipated reader participation to be sufficient for all 15 of our books to have a different reader at each of the three sessions per hour scheduled,” said Ray.
When nearly every single student at the college participated, along with countless residents, Ray had to create reading blocks. “This was a phenomenal event and brought people from all walks of life together to learn directly what walking in others’ shoes really meant,” she added. “Our Books were categorized as inspirational, human interest, true life, historical, survivor, success, dramatic, humorous, medical, heartwarming, educational, diversity, intrigue, religious, crime and justice, military, and thriller. All these books had one thing in common, a story that needed to be told.”
The following year the University of Missouri contacted CMCA to discuss the event as they were interested in producing a Human Library at the school.
“Some things never end, and we are lucky here in Osage County that we will continue to have town hall meetings, back-to-school fairs, fundraisers, parades, fall festivals, and classes for our families,” said Ray. “We could not do anything without our partners. The businesses, schools, county government, agencies, elected officials, churches, and organizations have supported us through every project, event, and program.”
Ray said leaving is bittersweet but she is confident that Millard will bring a lot of enthusiasm to the position.
“She has been a great part of CMCA and she’s full of energy,” said Ray.
Millard brings a lot of experience with CMCA to the position and believes the relationships built over the last 11 years will serve her well.
A 2009 graduate of the University of Central Missouri, Millard earned a degree in Child & Family Development. She graduated on a Saturday and started working for CMCA the following Monday as a Child & Family Development Advocate.
“With this role, I was a Head Start teacher but was able to work with the families as well as setting child developmental goals and family goals,” said Millard. “As much as I loved being a teacher, I wanted to work with the families more in-depth so that is when I applied for the home-based position with Early Head Start. I was able to build relationships with parents as I was working on child development with the parents in the comfort of their own home.”
She held this position from 2011 until 2014, and then for the next two years became a Family Development Advocate.
“I was able to work with families that were going through a crisis,” said Millard. “I had the opportunity to meet with the families in their home to help them overcome the crisis they may have been experiencing by setting manageable goals and helping them attain those goals by providing resources and support during that challenging time.”
The ShowMe Healthy Relationships Program was starting up within CMCA in 2016 and Millard found it very interesting. “I applied to be a part-time trainer but once I discovered the curriculum, I wanted more so I applied to be a Program Coach with the program full time. With this position, I was a facilitator for our singles, couples, and parenting classes as well as providing additional support and resources with the participants. I was in charge of setting up the courses we offered within the five counties I covered. I would get familiar with the counties by building relationships and partnerships and I thoroughly loved that piece of my job.”
So when the position of Community Organizer became open for Osage County, Millard said she knew this was the direction she needed to go.
“Each position I have had with CMCA has led me to this point,” said Millard. “I am a firm believer in getting to know people and building relationships within your community. I am really looking forward to this new journey in Osage and Moniteau counties.”