The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 15, 2014

CDSA goal: Better lives

Organization strives to always help out, even if it’s not the aid that was expected

Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Community Development Support Association is in the business of helping people.

From early childhood education to helping adults become self-sufficient and through community development efforts, CDSA’s mission is to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

Still, Cheri Ezzell, the organization’s executive director, says not everybody who comes to CDSA gets the help they had hoped for.

“People get mad at us a lot,” she said. “They say, ‘I went to CDSA and they didn’t do anything for me.’ That’s true, that happens a lot. People come to us and we’re not able to give them what they want.”

If someone is homeless, for instance, and comes to CDSA needing housing assistance, they may not get money to help pay rent.

“Our funder has said ‘You can’t do it unless you show it’s going to make a difference in their life,’” said Ezzell. “Do they have a job and will they be able to pay the rent next month?”

If they can’t show that, Ezzell said, CDSA’s hands are tied — to a point.

“What we do then is try to help the person become employed,” she said, “give them some places where they can go and find work. If we can make them fit those guidelines, then we can find them a place to live, we can pay their first month’s rent.

“We’re always trying to make these decisions, about, does this make sense, will this make a difference for this person’s life?”

Thus, CDSA’s clients will get help from the agency, but perhaps not always the help they sought.

“There are gifts we can give people, if we’re good at what we do, that may not be what they came for,” Ezzell said.

To help improve its customer service, CDSA has implemented a series of customer service standards, based on its initials.

C stands for “Connect with a caring smile, greet with respect, move to a confidential setting.” D is for “Discover how we can help, deliver expert service, direct to others who can help.” S is “Show your commitment to serving others in every interaction,” while A stands for “Ask how else we can help take a holistic approach.”

“We are trying to change the way we serve people,” said Ezzell. “We want our people to understand they are held accountable to treat people really well when they come here, looking at the whole person.

“What can we do to make CDSA better? One thing we can do is to be kinder, and not just kindness but effectiveness and professionalism.”

Often, people seeking CDSA’s services are in a difficult place in their lives, Ezzell said.

“And sometimes they are hard to work with,” she said. “We have to remind ourselves continually the people we serve are here because they need us, and that’s our job.”

This “sea change,” in customer service, Ezzell said, is possible thanks to the fact CDSA’s many local arms have been, since the summer of 2012, under one roof in the Non-Profit Center in downtown Enid.

What makes a difference

Through its programs, CDSA helps people find affordable childcare, offers emergency assistance, seeks housing solutions, trains parents to aid in their children’s education, helps people who don’t have prescription drug coverage, targets the needs of infants and small children, helps people find employment and helps teenagers reach their full potential.

Youthbuild is a nine-month program open only to 28 high school dropouts annually. Over the course of the nine months, the students work to complete their high school education, learn construction skills while working on affordable housing for low-income families and gaining job skills.

“More than all of that, in the nine months we keep them we kind of change them, that’s our goal,” said Ezzell. “If you can change the lives of 28 people, that’s huge.”

Hoping to tackle the problem of a lack of affordable housing in Enid, CDSA has been working on a tax credit with its development partner, Carland Group construction company of Oklahoma City. Carland wants to start a new housing development off 30th Street, featuring 35 affordable homes. The CDSA board committed $225,000 to that project, a loan Carland will pay back over time if the development gets off the ground.

“Housing, especially high quality affordable housing, is just one of the greatest needs in our community right now,” said Ezzell.

Another need is affordable child care, she said.

“The burden of the cost of child care for working families is just horrible,” said Ezzell. “Moms have to work, dads have to work and we want our children to be in places that are healthy for them and safe for them. Parents worry about that all the time, and it’s expensive.”

Needs are based on a person’s stage of life, Ezzell said. A single mother needs affordable child care, while an elderly person may need help maintaining their home while living on a fixed income.

“We all have different priorities and needs, depending on where we are in life and what our resources are,” Ezzell said. “CDSA is here to help people who don’t have the resources to meet their needs, most often through no fault of their own.”

The epitome of a CDSA client is a single mom with children younger than 5.

“We believe, one of our undergirding philosophies is, we make the biggest difference for people in early childhood,” said Ezzell. “If you don’t have what you need when you are a little kid, your chances of growing up to be a successful contributor to our community are greatly lessened. You have an opportunity gap. That’s why we focus so much on early childhood services.”

The Parents as Teachers program helps parents become involved in their children’s intellectual, language, physical and social development before they turn 3.

“They (parents) have these sort of mentors who are trained and experienced, and help them understand what’s going on with their kids,” Ezzell said. “That’s been a really successful program.”