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Making a difference — Scarborough honored, Family Services explains mission

Cay Shawler says some occasions just call to be recognized, and this is one of them. Shawler, board chair for Family Services of Boyle County, was referring to a plaque presentation for Milton Scarborough — he’s now one of only 10 honorary lifetime members of the board.

“While he reports that his involvement with the agency began in 2007, it’s fair to say it began before that date — while his wife, Victoria, was executive director in 2004,” Shawler told the rest of the board and others gathered Thursday to witness Scarborough receiving the plaque.

(Bobbie Curd photo)
Crystal McPherson, executive director of Family Services Association of Boyle County, hugs Milton Scarborough after he was presented with a plaque as an honorary lifetime board member.

Shawler said Scarborough has offered his expertise and support in a variety of ways. “Financially, as a board member and chair, as a creative thinker, a public advocate, and mild maintenance,” she said, which garnered laughter about the repairs and painting he’s done to the building.

She said not many agencies have a book detailing their history, referring to “A Century of Compassion at Community House,” a historical analysis by Scarborough of Family Services, which was founded in 1916. His book resulted in the historical marker that now stands in front of the Third Street building, something Shawler said serves as a reminder to see and understand the mission of the agency.

“There have only been nine others to receive this honor, and the ninth member is here today,” she said, motioning to Jim Rankin, who she requested present the plaque.

“Thank you for the work on the book, Milton. But it always felt kind of weird when you always referred to me as the only ‘living’ honorary member. Now there’s two of us,” Rankin said to more laughter.

“Watch your back,” Scarborough teased.

As he accepted the honor, Scarborough’s voice cracked and his eyes began to well up. “I want to thank you for letting me be a part of this. In retirement, you need to wake up in the morning and know there’s something to do, and it’s a need that’s important.”

After the presentation, Scarborough explained how he happened upon some incredibly old books in the cases of the building. He said the board had no idea there even was such a thing as an honorary member until he found them.

“I was rummaging through here one day, looking for some clerical things and saw these old books. This is the original set of minutes,” he said, and opened a thick-bound book with aged, yellow paper and cursive handwriting in pencil.

(Bobbie Curd photo)
Milton Scarborough found several old books and paper at the Family Services Association building while cleaning one day, including the book of the original set of minutes, above. The association was founded in 1916. He used the materials he found to write the book, “A Century of Compassion at Community House,” a historical analysis about the agency.

“I had to get some people to help me decipher the writing. I think it’s a total of nine books all together,” Scarborough said. He pulled other binders out of the cabinet he said contain multiple papers, including letters written to the federal government by the former director of Trinity Episcopal Church, who was president of the agency during the Great Depression and was greatly involved in helping people affected by it.

“The people who handed out money and jobs met here — not in this building but the old one,” he said.

Scarborough said his long involvement in Family Services is due to the fact that from its beginning more than a century ago, it has opposed begging and unlimited handouts in favor of a program of limited emergency assistance, “followed by personal counseling and, more recently, classwork in money management and employability. It’s a program that works.”

“He sees the vision. It’s about people in need,” said Liz Cook, board member. “Milton always reminds you the purpose of what we’re doing here — people in need. And he’s so humble, which is evidenced by his emotion.”

“He completely buys into it,” said Crystal McPherson, executive director of Family Services. She said the hardest part for an agency can be finding people who will contribute not only to its mission, but to upkeep and administrative costs, for example.

“They want money to go directly to the individuals we serve, but if there’s something that has to be done to our building, or we need to have our yard mowed” — she said Scarborough has done several things with Rankin to help keep the building in shape, keeping them from having to pay labor. He helped pay for the cost of the renovation of the basement in the building, McPherson said, so the agency can rent it out and have extra income since its funding was cut.

He and Rankin even made the small classroom in the back of where the board meets, so McPherson can lead money management and employability trainings on site. He comes by in person and checks on her, she said — “He doesn’t call, he comes by and asks what I need, how are things going.”

She said he really gets it.

“He sees it. It’s not just me, telling a story and someone agreeing with it, he actually sees it.”

What the agency does

Family Services Association of Boyle County Inc. is a private, non-profit agency. It got $19,000 from the county this year, but its funding from the City of Danville went from $13,000 last fiscal year to $9,750 this year. Funding from the United Way has also gradually gone down.

“We started out about five years ago at about $30,000 from United Way. That’s gone down to $18,000 a year. Not to sound ungrateful — they believe in our mission and don’t want to cut it, but that’s just the climate right now,” McPherson said.

She said she tells clients that $18,000 sounds like a lot of money, but that averages out to $1,500 a month. An average client of the agency needs about $150 per person a month.

(Bobbie Curd photo) Victoria and Milton Scarborough, from left, past director Janie Pass, board member Jim Rankin and executive director Crystal McPherson pose for a picture taken by board chair Cay Shawler.

“So that’s about 10 people a month we can help with that funding,” she said. “I know the president keeps saying we have a booming economy, right? Tell that to my clients.”

She said she doesn’t “know the politics of it all,” but the rates on the city water bills have gone up, plus Kentucky Utilities’ rates have increased. About 70 percent of the assistance they give clients is to help cover water and electric bills.

Family Services helps clients that don’t get enough help from groups like Community Action, which does get state funding. “Their state program runs from November to March. That’s for heating, including natural gas, electric … They’re a government agency, we’re not. We fill in the gap, so people who fall through the cracks come to us. A lot of referrals come from other agencies.”

For instance, she said if a person goes to Community Action in the month of January with an electric bill, they can get help with up to $400. “But this year, (Community Action) didn’t even make it to March, they ran out (of funding) in February. So if someone comes into them in January and they need assistance for a bill (with a cut-off notice), and that person may have part of the amount left over they can’t help them with, they send them to us.”

McPherson said she thinks there’s a lot of misconception about what Family Services does and who the organization helps.

“A lot of people think it’s people who don’t want to work — it’s their own fault, right? Most of the people are disabled; many are working. If you take a person who makes minimum wage, who’s working 40 hours a week, can they afford a $300 electric bill? It’s not that they’re not working, or that they’re not educated.”

She said most of her clients have high school and some college education — something else that the public often doesn’t know.

She said for return clients, she provides case management to the best of her ability. McPherson has a master’s in social work and is a certified social worker — that’s what the classroom is for, she said. Here, she can take a group of people with similar issues in employment or money management areas, for instance, and place them together.

“It’s not like I’m actually teaching, it’s more like facilitating their learning by providing information and supplying materials. And I think they learn from each other. They’re all in the same situation — struggling.”

That’s something McPherson said she’s familiar with. “I grew up poor myself. I’m one of the lucky ones who was able to go to college and get an education and it brought me out of that, but not everybody has that accessibility.”

Some don’t have the family support system of others, she said. “It’s not that they’re lazy. It took a lot to get me through college. If you’re one of those kids who aged out of foster care, they don’t have that family structure, or maybe that cognitive ability. They can work, but maybe not a job that’s going to sustain them — it won’t pay a wage that will sustain them without assistance. What do I do about that? I can’t change their brain. So we help them.”

In the 11 years she’s been with the agency, McPherson said clients usually don’t return — about 90 percent don’t, which is why she’s able to provide case management.

However, in the last quarter, McPherson said she’s seeing an uptick in the amount of return clients. “I think it’s because of the increase of the rate of utilities. We’re talking about people on fixed incomes, drawing disability.”

The minimum amount they can draw is $750, she said; if they are disabled, they usually have medical problems and expenses related to that, and even if they have coverage, many things aren’t included.

“Those are the ones who usually find themselves seeing me more often. If they’re on a fixed income and there’s a rate increase, what can they do about it? I expect people will be picking and choosing what they can fill with medications more and more now due to the Medicaid changes.”

Family Services can also help seniors, McPherson said, but they don’t see many.

“The issue there, with that age group, they are too proud to ask for help. They’d rather go without than to ask, or they don’t even know how to contact us.” She said “in the current climate, they hear so much with conversations about how they should be ashamed of asking for help. They’re embarrassed. Whenever a senior comes in, I always hear ‘this is something I’ve never had to do, I’ve worked my whole life, I don’t want to be here asking for help…’”

Family Services has two private trust funds it was bestowed with to help seniors: one for ages 55-64, and one for 65 and older. To receive assistance, seniors must be at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty guideline.

“And that’s net. We don’t look at gross; it’s based on what they actually bring home,” McPherson said. Anyone going through Family Services must be a Boyle County resident.

For all others seeking help, they must be at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty guideline, have a photo ID and proof of income. The rest is contingent upon what they’re needing help with. For instance, if it’s rent, the agency will need a copy of their lease. If electric, they need a copy of their disconnect notice.

“We are emergency assistance. It has to be proven that they’re at shut-off level.” And prescriptions that vouchers are given for do not cover any narcotics; it’s mostly insulin and blood sugar test strips, blood pressure medication or antibiotics not covered by insurance.

(Bobbie Curd photo)
Crystal McPherson, third from left, smiles widely as board members gather during a plaque presentation Thursday at Family Services Association of Boyle County.

They work with Good Neighbor Pharmacy, McPherson said, as the other “big name” pharmacies don’t accept their vouchers. “They know what we cover, we’ve been working with them for so many years.”

One of the biggest parts of her job is linking people to other services. Many agencies in the area are very tight-knit with one another due to the amount of referrals provided.

“And the way we help children who are not part of a household is to partner up … with the Youth Services center, for example. They help the homeless kids.” Some have parents but are not being taken care of, she said, others are staying with friends or on the streets.

“I always say homelessness looks different in rural areas. You won’t see people walk up and down the streets pushing a shopping cart. They’re staying with friends or sleeping in their car. We had a woman who we found sleeping under a tree in the back of the Family Services building. Milton found her. She was pregnant, and very far along.”

As for local funding that’s been cut recently, McPherson said she has a different viewpoint about this. When she began her job, it was a part-time position, and she always had a second job, which would sometimes involve serving other counties.

“So I was able to see what was going on in Garrard, Lincoln, Mercer. In comparison to other counties, our government agencies are doing a great job. Other counties don’t receive the amount of money that our city and county gives to agencies, so I have a hard time complaining about that.”

McPherson said, “We’re lucky that they’re donating.”