The Road To Sustainability

An article published by the Georgia Community Action Association (GCAA)
See the full article here
Written by Amanda Caraway

Mark Aguilar was completely homeless when he was introduced to the Ninth District Opportunity, Inc. (NDO) a Community Action Agency in Northeast Georgia.  Today Aguilar has a full-time job with benefits, and he lives in his own home with his wife and 10-month old daughter.

The NDO runs a housing and homeless prevention program with the goal of helping individuals become self-sufficient so they no longer require the use of shelters and other government programs.

According to Shawn Howell, the Housing Program Manager with Ninth District Opportunity, Inc., it is not just a financial aid program.

“We run an intensive case-management based program that uses needs assessment, accountability and progress review to ensure that those who receive funding are successful,” Howell says.  “This program requires commitment and is not a handout.”

Aguilar was referred to the Ninth District Opportunity in 2011 through an acquaintance at the rescue shelter where he was living.  Following an interview he was accepted into the program and within a week he had a place to live.  Aguilar received funding to pay rent and utilities so he could concentrate on finding employment.

“Mark was only in the program for three months,” Howell explains.  The total amount of funding that he received was around $2,100, and now he is completely sustainable.”

Aguilar agrees that client accountability played a part in his success. After joining the program, he was required to check in with his case manager every couple of weeks as they tracked his progress.

“Getting stuck at the rescue level is a problem,” Aguilar says.  “In my case this program worked perfectly to help me hit every point that I needed to become sustainable.”

Aguilar started by working at lower level jobs, such as doing yard work at a golf course, and gradually moved up to better paying jobs.  he is currently a sales manager at a nutrition company, and he and his wife own a home across from the golf course where he worked cutting grass.

Although Aguilar’s story might be exceptional, his experience with NDO demonstrates what a motivated individual can accomplish with a little assistance.  He credits the staff at Ninth District Opportunity with helping him to learn to develop the necessary skills to be successful in life. Having a support system was so important to his own success that he started mentoring others through the homeless prevention program.

“It became a dual journey – the journey to help myself and the journey to help others,” Aguilar says.  If you have people working with you to guide you through the process it is easier to overcome the hurdles and be successful.

Howell grew up in poverty, so he experienced firsthand the importance of Community Action.

“We help people obtain the job skills necessary for employment, which clears out the shelters, keeps kids off the streets and cleans up the neighborhoods,” says Howell.  “If we invest in people, our neighborhoods become safer and everyone becomes more successful.  Landlords receive rent and utility payments get made, which keeps the costs down for everyone.”

Aguilar says he would recommend this program to anyone who is looking to get back on their feet.  There is a clear starting point and end point that makes it easy for anyone who has the heart to achieve.

“Just be honest and disciplined and you’ll get there,” Aguilar says.  “I am so grateful for the opportunities this program has brought me.”




Local cancer patient learns to never give up

Written by Angela Williamson, Dawson News and Advertiser
June 5, 2013


When 42 year old Dawson County resident James Loop started experiencing pain in his lower abdomen four months ago, his plan was to quickly seek medical attention and return to work.

But without health insurance, finding a doctor to diagnose his condition was far tougher than expected.  After countless trips to doctors, he remained unsure of the reason for his pain.

Loop had no option but to leave work for what he expected to be a temporary period. His pain was unbearable, and he started experiencing uncontrollable hemorrhaging.

Sinking into a deep hole of despair without a steady income, over the next several months, Loop not only lost his home, but his savings were exhausted.  He had no other option but to sleep in his car at a nearby campsite.

During a trip to the emergency room for urinary problems, Loop suffered a heart attack.  Afterwards, he received a diagnosis for the cause of his pain.  But it wasn’t news he was expecting.

“They told me I had bladder cancer,” said Loop.  He thought “I’m homeless, I have no income, no insurance, no way to take care of myself, and now they tell me I’m dying.”

“A company was sent in to complete and application requesting medical assistance for me,” Loop said. “But I was heavily medicated and really don’t know how I answered the questions.  I had always worked and paid my taxes,” he said. “Why wasn’t I able to get help?”

Loop said when he was discharged from the hospital he returned back to his car at the campsite.  “I didn’t think I was ever going to get through this.”  He lost all hope.

While Loop was in the hospital, his friend, Terri Reece was making phone calls seeking assistance for him.  One of the first places she contacted was Dawson County Ninth District Opportunity, Inc. “She told me he was very sick and had no place to stay,” said Alice Williamson, Community Resource Coordinator for NDO, Inc. “I told her to have him to immediately get in touch with me.” Williamson also told Reece about a local organization assisting with temporary Housing, St. Vincent De Paul Society.

Reece shared the information with Loop, but he wasn’t getting his hopes up, yet. “I wanted to believe her,” he explained.  “But I didn’t see how all of this was going to come together.”

After Loop sought help from NDO, an assessment was made on his case, and he was immediately approved for a housing program.

While he waited to move into his home, St. Vincent De Paul placed him in a hotel room.

“Three days from the time I came in, I had a home,” Loop said emotionally.

After researching the application completed at the hospital, Williamson noticed it hadn’t been submitted correctly.

“There’s an application specifically for people considered homeless and his wasn’t submitted that way,” explained Williamson.  “It would have prioritized his above all others if it had been.”

Williamson contacted the proper administration and explained Loop’s situation, requesting his application for assistance to be changed, indicating he was homeless.  After three weeks, Loop received the good news.

“He was immediately approved for Medicaid and presumptive Social Security Income until a final decision could be made on his claim,” explained Williamson.  “If approved, he will likely receive Social Security Disability because he has paid in so much through working.”

“I couldn’t believe it happened so fast,” exclaimed Loop.

Williamson said several other local groups have joined the effort to help.

“I can’t explain how happy I am,” he said.  I would have never thought programs like this existed.”

The sequence of life changing events has given him a renewed view of community resources.

“Alice talked with me and treated me like a friend,” said Loop.  “She took time to really look over my application, and I don’t know what I would’ve done if she hadn’t.”

Loop said now he can offer advice to others who feel there is no one to help.

“There is help out there,” he said. “You just have to show you really need it and want it.  I thought my story would go in one ear and out the other, but it didn’t.”

Williamson said there is a reason why he’s receiving the help he needs.

“He has been such an easy and motivated client to work with,” she said.  These programs work if you want them to, and he wanted it.”

Williamson said the network of organizations and community resources in Dawson County are the reason behind it all.

“If it wasn’t for all of these great people donating their time and resources, we wouldn’t have success stories like this.”

And Loop said he is ready to get better.

“I’m making a urologist appointment today,” he said smiling.

Read Full Article Here


The Day the “War on Poverty” came to Gainesville

The day the ‘war on poverty’ came to Gainesville

By Ken Stanford, Access North Georgia


GAINESVILLE – Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson was in Gainesville to lobby for his “war on poverty.”

The Gainesville stop was one of several during a five-state swing across the country to promote the campaign (see third link below) which Johnson had kicked off January 8, 1964, in his State of the Union speech.

After a breakfast meeting and speech in Atlanta, Johnson helicoptered to the Gainesville airport, where they were welcomed by numerous local and state leaders and the Gainesville High School band. (You can read the text of the remarks the president made at the airport by clicking on the first link below.)

The official welcome was not given by the mayor or the county commission chairman or the head of the chamber of commerce or some other government, business or civic leader. But that honor went to a 12-year-old boy, Charles Overby, a recipient of a Carnegie Hero Fund bronze medal.

According to a story in the Corsicana (Tex.) Daily Sun, Overby had been awarded the medal for saving the life of a younger boy who was about to be hit by a train.

“Mr. President,” the paper quoted Overby as saying, “I want to welcome you on behalf of Hall County and northeast Georgia.”

Replied the president, according to the story: “I’ve never been welcomed better.”

After the welcoming ceremony at the airport, a motorcade then carried Johnson and his entourage to downtown Gainesville.

Johnson spoke at Roosevelt Square, using the same podium that President Franklin D. Roosevelt used in 1936 when he visited Gainesville not long after the deadly and devastating tornado that struck the city on April 6 that year. Johnson made an impassioned plea for not only passage of his war on poverty, authored by then-9th District Congressman Phil Landrum, but the Civil Rights Act, as well. (You can read the text of the president’s downtown speech by clicking on the second link below.)


The New York Times covered the president’s visit to Atlanta and Gainesville, devoting several paragraphs to his visit in a story that also included an account of Johnson’s stop earlier in the day in Atlanta.

The Times noted that Johnson’s motorcade into town stopped at a store owned by Mr. and Mrs. A.J. Buttler, an African-American couple that had been doing business there since 1910, where he visited with the Buttlers and a number of their neighbors. The motorcade also stopped at a house owned Mrs. Eva Russell. There, Johnson visited with Mrs. Russell, her son Johnny and Mrs. Robert H. Helton.

The New York Times’ story reported that the crowd filled the area between city hall and the county courthouse, an estimated 40,000-50,000.

To read the entire story, you can visit

It was LBJ’s second visit to Gainesville in four years. In May 1960, he campaigned here while running for Vice President on the Democratic ticket with John F. Kennedy.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Pictures courtesy The Hall County Library System,, the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, and YouTube.)

Link: Text of remarks made by the president upon arrival at the Gainesville airport
Link: Text of remarks made by the president in downtown Gainesville
Link: YouTube: The Poverty Tours (April-May) 1964