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Out of work? Down on your luck?: Help is available for Marion County residents

Staff writer

There is a network of agencies in Marion County helping people who have lost their jobs. These different places each provide services and often call upon one another for help.

Lynn Unruh has a modest office on the east side of downtown Marion. She has colorful printed sayings posted on the walls of that office to illustrate points about finances. “It is better to have a steady income than be fascinating,” and “A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went,” are two of the inspirational gems found on the walls of the otherwise drab structure.

Unruh is the Mid-Kansas Community Action Program agent for Marion County. The clients who come to her include single moms who have to choose between feeding her kids or paying their heating bills. Some of Unruh’s clients are men who have been laid off and are living from unemployment check to unemployment check.

More importantly, Unruh helps people who want to help themselves.

“The whole program is based on a goal,” Unruh said. “They have to have a goal in mind, usually goals need to be related to finances.”

If a person goes to Mid-CAP, they are agreeing to participate in a process that is more extensive than receiving a check. It is Unruh’s job to help people plan their expenses or increase their income.

She has helped many people get their Certified Nursing Certificates; Mid-CAP will pay for part of the CNA class fee. She has helped others go to Butler Community College and other schools in the area. She also helps people find jobs.

Mid-CAP will pay part of a bill with emergency assistance funding, if people provide reliable information about their income. She can get people food vouchers with the Marion County Emergency Food Bank.

Unruh sits down with people every week to keep track of their spending. She is even certified by the IRS to e-file their taxes, a service she provides free of charge.

“I try to help them find what their strengths are,” she said. “It hasn’t been me it’s been the people who’ve done it.”

Communities In Schools, directed by Linda Ogden in Marion, provides assistance similar to Mid-CAP. CIS has programs that are energy-assistance related, paying part of rent, electricity, or gas bills, but they also have educational programs.

Head Start is a program to provide preschool education and day care services. CIS also has a training program for early childhood — preschool and kindergarten — teachers.

Ogden also said that CIS doesn’t force people to provide much information about their income to get help from them.

“The hoops in Marion County are that they have to drive somewhere,” she said. “Some people were referred by the Sheriff’s office. If someone is desperate enough to go to the Sheriff’s office, we’re not going to make them jump through anymore hoops.”

Unruh and Ogden are often referred clients by the ministerial alliances in Marion County. Often people turn to churches when times are hard and if people just need a little bit of help, they can go to the ministerial alliances in Marion, Hillsboro, and Peabody.

Carl Helm oversees the organization in Marion. He has the authority to pay part of a bill that a person brings to him. He said that the ministerial alliance can only pay a percentage of most bills because they rely on the donations of their congregations and events like the Thanksgiving dinner to provide funding.

Helm said that the number of people who request help has increased in recent years and he continues to be limited in what he can do. He also anticipates the need in the community to be much larger this holiday season as the weather worsens. He can refer people to other organizations and he also gives food vouchers.

He also is more willing to help people within his own congregation. He said, as a pastor, his first responsibility is his church and he has more of an ability to connect someone willing to give with someone needing to receive within his congregation.

Although he is wary of people trying to take advantage of the system, he said he will help anyone as long as they don’t lie to him.

“A lot of people have never been in this situation before,” he said. “If we make a mistake we’re going to make it on the side of mercy.”

David Ragland controls the ministerial alliance in Peabody and his policy is to pay no more than 80 percent of a bill or rent payment. Ragland will also fill up a gas tank.

“We don’t give it to them,” Ragland said. “We give it to Weststar or Atmos or the gas station.”

Ragland points people in the direction of services that are available: Peabody Christian Church operates the food bank in Peabody and Peabody United Methodist Church hands out school supplies to needy families.

Steven Humber is the treasurer of Hillsboro’s Ministerial Alliance and in charge of Marion County’s Salvation Army. Both institutions can pay for part of a rent, gas, or electricity payment. Humber often receives referrals from the Salvation Army store in Newton.

Humber can be a little bit more generous with the Salvation Army funds. But, he said that the money the organization collects from the kettles during Christmas only lasts until April or May.

The Salvation Army does provide other services. Humber said that they have given out back packs and the Salvation Army runs a summer camp, camp Missouri-Kansas, that children can attend for five $5.

“Families that are just living pay check to pay check are just finding it harder to stay on top of things,” Humber said. “Seventeen thousand people or 20 percent of people in the county are at or below the poverty line.”

All of the Ministerial alliance leaders have an opportunity to refer people to different health clinics in the area that provide services without insurance.

One such place, that Helm recommends to people in Marion, is PrarieStar Health Center in Hutchinson.

“We take uninsured people,” PrarieStar Community Liaison Barbara Woumans said. “Normally we would have them pay for something.”

PrairieStar, a federally funded health center, is unique because it also has a dental department. PrairieStar provides all the services that a doctor or dentist office would have. Woumans said that child checkups and immunizations are almost free — they only ask people to pay the administration fee for shots.

Dental wing of PrairieStar provides fillings, cleanings, crowns, bridges, and X-rays.

“We can be your dentist,” Woumans said.

PrairieStar serves a four to five county area and reaches as far as Great Bend for dentistry.

These are just some of the organizations in Marion County. Sometimes help can come from a chance encounter with a caring person.

Humber talked about a time when a man was coming to see him in his office.

“Somebody was trying to find me to get some gas for their car,” he said. “Another person was walking up to the church building and he turned right around and bought him gas himself. Ideally, we notice the needs around us.”

Last modified Nov. 10, 2009

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