Exploring five key areas, Executive Director Anthony Powell and Community Services Director Sondra Jones with the Pine Bluff Jefferson County Economic Opportunities Commission delivered presentations to a cluster of observers Wednesday afternoon regarding upcoming plans to help area residents who need support amid tough conditions.

They focused on the commission’s strategies for using its Community Service Block Grant in the coming fiscal year.

This block grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “provides funds to alleviate the causes and conditions of poverty in communities,” according to its federal website at https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ocs/programs/csbg/about.

The Pine Bluff Jefferson County Economic Opportunities Commission, Powell explained on Wednesday, is a 501c(3) organization, in existence since 1965, that serves Jefferson, Arkansas, Cleveland, Grant and Lincoln. Its website describes it as a “community action agency.”

Powell said that the commission’s allotment for the CSBG is $434,364 for fiscal year 2019 — a portion of the commission’s overall funding — and that the commission will submit a plan to the Arkansas Department of Human Services in the coming days.

“Our clients are low-income, and (we) help them to transition to what is called self-sufficiency,” Powell said during Wednesday’s presentation in the commission’s administration building in Pine Bluff. The commission administers a range of services, from education to help with utilities.

Powell and Jones identified the need for affordable dental care, crime awareness and reduction, employment opportunities and higher wages, community/neighborhood cleanup and help paying utility bills as important areas of focus for funds from the CSBG based on a community needs assessment.

Jones explained that client surveys, forums, and engagement with community leaders helped the organization to determine the top five needs.

During his presentation, Powell noted the need to reach more people who are struggling economically. In the fiscal year 2017, he said, “5,927 families and 7,456 individuals received services from PBJCEOC.”

The number of clients in poverty totaled 26,693, he said.

“These clients that have received services make up about 20 percent of the total poverty population (in the service area),” he said. “You’ve got another 80,000 people in poverty we need to reach.”

Much of the work the commission does involves reaching clients and helping them to find services. In an interview after his presentation, Powell also stressed the need to work with service providers in areas such as dental care. That might involve “getting more dentists in the Little Rock area to set up satellite offices in this area,” he said.

Powell also noted the possibility of communicating with legislators about policies that could reframe the way providers serve patients.

Powell mentioned, too, the importance of educating clients about the changing nature of job searches.

“Employers are requesting more information from potential employees,” he said after his presentation, noting that credit history, social media postings and other factors can affect a person’s employment.

Powell said the CSBG can bolster a number of endeavors the commission undertakes.

“It’s a grant that we use as a supporting grant for our programs,” he said.

People seeking more information about the Pine Bluff Jefferson County Economic Opportunities Commission can go to https://pbjceoc.org/.