Ending cycle of poverty is EOC commissioner’s goal

Janice Cook-Johnson said it’s her goal as Jefferson County coordinator for the Economic Opportunity Commission to provide a fix to get families in the area out of poverty so they don’t rely on the commission from generation to generation.

Cook-Johnson was named coordinator in early February, and she said she’s more than excited about the programs and services available to low-income families in the area.

She said her goals include reducing poverty, increasing employment, providing quality school readiness, increasing and sustaining relationships with other area agencies, helping to get families out of a poverty cycle and giving those families a sense of hope to know they’re not alone.

A forum open to everyone in the community will be held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the commission’s administration building at 1201 W. Pullen St.

“We want to ask people how we can better serve families needing our assistance in Jefferson County in order to assess their needs,” Cook-Johnson said.

Cook-Johnson said numerous programs are available to low-income families, which she looks forward to sustaining and advancing.

Head Start is the commission’s flagship program, Cook-Johnson said, and that people who participate in it are still positively affected by it 30 and 40 years afterwards.

Twenty-six hundred people were impacted by the commission’s last food giveaway, which was part of its Food Commodities program — a program that subsidizes the diets of families — Cook-Johnson said.

Support Education and Training is a program that helps clients improve specific jobs skills and get them in sustainable jobs, she said.

She also said the commission’s Medical Aid Program supplies the elderly with medication in emergency life-threatening situations if they can’t afford it.

Assurance 16 is a program, Cook-Johnson said, that sponsors a series of workshops for goal-setting and thinking about ideas to avoid costly fees families may be battling.

Weatherization is a program facilitated by the commission that helps low-income families maximize energy efficiency in their homes.

The commission’s Energy Assistance Program helps with energy as well, paying bills directly to companies for gas, electricity, propane and other forms of energy.

The commission has recently partnered with Hope Credit Union to start a Second Chance Banking Program to provide families who can’t meet payment dates, she said, giving them opportunities they otherwise would not receive to pay the money back without punishment.

Cook-Johnson said the commission is also currently partnered with Neighbor to Neighbor, the Salvation Army, Housing Authority, shelters for women and a host of pastors and volunteers from the community, such as the Rev. Kevin Crumpton and dedicated volunteer Eula Williams.

Cook-Johnson said it’s grant-writing is a competitive process, and she’s dedicated to spending every federal dollar wisely and for the benefit of the community.

Cook-Johnson has recently relocated to the South from Michigan. She earned a bachelor’s in political science and sociology from the University of Michigan, a master’s in public administration from Western Michigan University and is currently working on her doctorate in education leadership at Wayne State University.