One third of the people who live in the city of Duluth are living in poverty or are considered to be working poor. Community Action Duluth is doing whatever it takes to help people who are struggling to cover basic needs.

Success Stories!

Participants get covered using MNSure
Glass Artist Completes FAIM and opens for business
Money & Homewbuyer class: Another new homeowner
JumpStart getting vehicles to people in need
CAD & MNDOT Partner for Employment Success!
Cherkesha is Getting Ahead
Watch a video of other success stories

Participants get covered using MNSure

MNsure logoOur MNSure Navigators Megan Halena and Karen Walter have helped dozens of Duluthians get health coverage through MNSure, the statewide health insurance exchange. Since mid-December, we've deployed four health promoters to let more people know about MNSure and the navigation services that we offer as an Insure Duluth partner organizations. While MNSure suffered from serious technological teething problems, our navigators have successfully helped many people through the process of getting coverage. Here's a sampling of their stories:

  • We've helped some people get covered using expanded public programs. One self-employed man came to us to see if he could use MNSure to find a better deal than his $300/month commercial plan. He found out that he qualified for Minnesota Care and now his premiums will be under $50/month.
  • Some people with serious pre-existing conditions that limited their pre-Affordable Care Act (ACA) coverage options to the Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association (MCHA or "insurance of last resort") have come to us to check out their new commercial options. One Lincoln Park resident in this situation picked out a private plan and found that she qualified for federal cost sharing. This subsidy cut her out-of-pocket costs by 73%!
  • We've worked with some people whose insurance was cancelled because it did not meet the ACA's essential health benefit requirements. This was the situation of a senior couple we worked with. With our help, they were able to purchase a plan that offered comparable benefits through the exchange.

The open enrollment period for individual and family coverage runs through the end of March. If you'd like to make an appointment to find out what your coverage options are, give us a call today.

Glass artist completes FAIM

Sam Kwiatkowski, Glass ArtistSam Kwiatkowski completed FAIM Small Business this August. After saving for a year to make his contribution and finishing his education requirements, he wrote a business plan for launching Sammy Flowers Glass and earned his 3-to-1 match funds. "'Kwiatkowski' means 'flowers' in Polish," says Sam, hence the name of
his business.

His first major purchase was an industry standard gas bench torch that he uses to create his specialty: jewelry, vessels and ornaments of glass melted and fashioned to include metals and other elements that lend them color and depth. "The torch I had before was a lot smaller. The flame was maybe as wide as my finger. This one, the flame's as wide as my hand. It's a lot more powerful and I can work a lot faster," he says. Asked if he'd recommend FAIM to friends or family, Sam answers, "Yes, most definitely! I like the complete program. All the bases and steps were covered from ground up – finances, business, and coaching and support."

You can see Sam demonstrate his technique at Lake Superior Art Glass, 202 East Superior Street in Duluth, where he is renting studio space. The craft is not for the faint-hearted: along with tools, Sam used the balance of his FAIM funds to order Kevlar protective gear.

Congratulations, Sam!

— Julia Cheng, FAIM Small Business Coordinator, August 2012

Coleen’s Story

Coleen: new homeownerColeen came to Community Action Duluth in 2009 looking to eventually purchase a home. With her sights set on homeownership, Coleen first began with a savings program – Duluth Saves, to help her build an emergency account to fall back on in case of an unforeseen problem. Not expecting any unforeseen problems – Coleen had just that. In early 2010, Coleen’s car was broken into and her purse was stolen. Everything was gone and all her accounts were locked for security purposes and potential ID theft. In a jam and in need of some funds to pay her bills on-time - something Coleen has been meticulous about since finishing Common Cents - she was able to access her Duluth Saves account and make her payments. She also was able to withdrawal some funds to make it until her bank accounts were back in order.

Throughout our time, Coleen finished the Common Cents: The Money and Homebuyer Class and worked hard on improving her credit score and plan for the long-term. Empowered by her new hold on financial knowledge, Coleen became a champion for her own family’s financial health and well being and of those around her. In the first year after taking Common Cents, Coleen paid down over $5,000 in debt and became completely debt free! In just 1 year, Coleen saw her credit scores jump by 60 points. But Coleen didn’t stop there, she continued to invest her tax returns wisely (also prepared by Community Action Duluth), save in her Family Self Sufficiency, FAIM and personal savings accounts and by January of this year, she had access to over $20,000 in savings to put towards her home and furnishings!

Coleen has always been resourceful, independent and tenacious. Without any need for guidance, Coleen advanced the stability and sustainability of her family by planning and executing the collaboration of multiple resources including but not limited to: The Housing and Redevelopment Authority of Duluth’s Section 8, HOPE VI, Family Self Sufficiency (FSS) and MURL programs, Neighborhood Housing Services, SOAR Career Solutions, the Minnesota Resource Center and Personal Care Assistants programs for her special needs son as well as the Duluth Saves, FAIM and Common Cents programs at Community Action Duluth. Together, these agencies and services provided Coleen and her beautiful family with an amazing support system for every need they had and every problem they encountered.

It was my honor to attend Coleen’s first home closing this past March. Together with her mother and Margie from the MURL program, we sat in the board room taking pictures, shedding tears and reminiscing on the amazing journey Coleen and her family have taken.

“It’s been a lot of hard work and a long time coming, but it’s finally here! You are talking to a homeowner! I can’t stop smiling—this is so much better than I could have imagined—it’s overwhelming! My face is starting to hurt but I just can’t stop smiling! I can’t believe it. I’m so excited to give my kids a new opportunity without completely uprooting them. They’ll stay in the same neighborhood and in the same schools. We’re going to get a dog and they couldn’t be more excited! Thank you for everything!” –Coleen Chasko

JumpStart is getting vehicles to people in need

JumpStart gives away 3 carsCommunity Action Duluth’s JumpStart Duluth program has gone a long way in helping low-income families purchase reliable transportation. Since the program’s inception we have assisted 64 families purchase a reliable vehicle for work and family needs.  However, for several of the families we work with, even the low-interest rate loan and down payment assistance aren’t enough to make ownership of a reliable vehicle a reality.

To help further address this need for reliable transportation, CAD and the Twin Ports Napa Auto Repair Centers have once again partnered to give three families refurbished cars and the recipients couldn't be more appreciative. 

Valirick Pepper has been without a car for 3 years and said this vehicle donation is truly a gift that will keep on giving, "This will make life so much easier, even the simple things like grocery shopping in the winter, being able to get everything we need without freezing the whole way - I mean it's everything, it’s going to change our life, it’s gonna open up so many more opportunities. It’s definitely one of the best Christmas presents we've ever received."

The Napa Auto Repair Centers donated all the necessary parts and put an estimated 40-50 hours into refurbishing the vehicles that were donated to CAD so they would be in good condition for the recipients. CAD’s transportation advocate worked with each recipient to ensure they would be able to afford liability insurance, gas, car maintenance and repair.

To really progress and move toward prosperity reliable transportation is a necessity. These hard working families really needed dependable transportation in order to advance to that next level and reach long-term prosperity. The recipients chosen to receive the vehicle were those that excelled at working toward their financial, employment and education goals at CAD.

Having little -to -no transportation is a struggle and a major barrier to finding and maintaining work . "People can't get to workcause they don't have a car but they can’t buy a car because they can’t get to work to earn the money” said Brad Williams with NAPA Auto Care.

As good as the DTA system is in Duluth, it’s not enough to meet the needs of all Duluth families. "One bus ride is an hour and a half," said car recipient Stacy Meese. "I spend fifteen hours a week between cabs and bus fare. Having this vehicle is going to mean being able to spend more quality time with my son."

"I feel pretty lucky and very grateful for the people who put this together," said Eilers.

CAD and MNDOT Partner for Employment Success!

I love it, it’s work, but it’s great!” says Walter Alexander about his new job with the Minnesota Department of Transportation(MNDOT). Walter, along with Elizabeth Burnham and Valerie Whitebird, got a job with MNDOT this fall as a result of an exciting new partnership between MNDOT and Community Action Duluth.

Walter Alexander, Elizabeth Burnham and Valerie Whitebird of MNDOT.This collaboration began about a year ago when Community Action Duluth was connected with MNDOT, and learned of their desire to increase the diversity of their workforce. Throughout many conversations, MNDOT staff learned about the many ways that Community Action Duluth helps low income people get prepared for success in the workplace. As a result, in October 2011, MNDOT contacted Community Action Duluth about the maintenance positions that were opening up and wanted to invite some of our participants to apply. Three participants were referred for the 6 month maintenance worker positions and all three were hired!
“The workers are doing well, they have established good working relationships and they are doing well in learning their jobs”, reports Sandy Danmeier, MNDOT Human Resources Supervisor, “We are thankful to Community Action Duluth for sending us such quality employees.”

Staff at Community Action Duluth and MNDOT are continuing to work together to grow this mutually beneficial partnership. Walter, Elizabeth and Valerie continue to receive support through the programs at Community Action Duluth to ensure that they are able to make the most out of this transformative employment opportunity. In Walter’s own words, “I thank God for Community Action and for MNDot. If it weren’t for Community Action I wouldn’t have this job. It’s wonderful.”

Cherkesha is Getting Ahead

CherkeshaCherkesha is a single mother who has been involved in the programs at Community Action Duluth since 2008. “I had heard good things about Community Action and so after leaving the shelter and getting into transitional housing, I knew it was time to check it out. The first thing I did was take the Getting Ahead class. That program opened my eyes about the different social classes. I never got that before and now knowing this gives me confidence in knowing how to talk to different people in the community and at work. The Getting Ahead class also really got me started on working on my goals and gave me the boost I needed to get going.” Cherkesha has been  going ever since.

When she came to Community Action Duluth, Cherkesha was struggling to make ends meet for her and her daughter. She was working part time as a telemarketer but without a high school diploma or GED, Cherkesha had very few employment options and continued to rely heavily on public assistance. After completing the Getting Ahead class, Cherkesha enrolled in the FAIM program to save for her educational goal of being the first in her family to go to college. Cherkesha then enrolled in the Circles@Work program and received Educational and Employment Coaching, as well as support from a volunteer Ally. Through this support Cherkesha was able to get her GED and in Fall 2009, she enrolled as a full time student at Lake Superior College.

Besides being a student, Cherkesha has also been in pursuit of employment to continue to support her family. The Circles@Work Employment coach has worked with Cherkesha on an on- going basis as Cherkesha is working to establish a solid employment history that will lead to self sufficiency. Cherkesha has now been able to maintain steady employment for the last 9 months. She is currently employed through the Duluth Energy Efficiency Program and is part of the ‘green canvass’ that helps homeowners connect with energy efficiency improvement available to them.

Cherkesha is now attending Fond Du Lac Tribal and Community College working towards her Associates Degree in Human Services and is making connections for her next employment opportunity once the canvass work is completed at the end of December. Cherkesha meets regularly with a financial coach through the Financial Opportunity Center at Community Action Duluth and is making progress on her next goals of buying a car and her own home.

“There are no words that can describe how much of an impact Community Action Duluth has had on my life. I cannot put in words how thankful I am for the overwhelming support I have received and continue to receive. I could never repay what has been done for me but I now am able to look forward to the day soon when I will be able to be the one giving back the kind of support I have received at Community Action Duluth.”


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FREE TAX SITE Open Jan 27-April 17 Mon/Tue/Sat and May 1-Jun 28 Tue/Wed. We prepare 2017 federal and state returns for households and individuals with annual income up to $54,000