Behind the scenes: Tempe Community Action Agency (TCAA) #3


Brittany Viar


“Poverty is a complex issue,” said Camden Sahlinger, Tempe Community Action Agency Program Manager. “By educating people on the causes and effects of poverty, people can gain a better understanding of ways our communities can work together to lift up our neighbors in need.”

We had the chance to speak with the wonderful people of TCAA, our current give back partner, and learn more about their history and aspirations as a team. They’re a nonprofit group dedicated to improving quality of life in the community by helping people obtain economic independence through service programs. With your purchase of a bag of our Give Back Blend, you can join us in supporting them.

“TCAA’s strategic goals focus on growing/sustaining its capabilities to respond to increased social needs, increasing engagement/retention and advancement of human capital, and improving participant outcomes through an integrated, people-centered service delivery system,” said Julie C. Kent, TCAA Development Coordinator.

What inspired the idea behind an organization like this? Two community-oriented women on a mission to spark change; Barbara Norton and Lupe Esquer. As a result of their passion, “Operation Grassroots” was formed and housed in a church in Victory Acres in 1966. The goal was to empower low-income neighborhoods in Tempe, AZ and provide much needed support and resources for the community. In 1971, Operation Grassroots was incorporated as a non-profit and renamed Tempe Community Action Agency. Members of the Esquer and Norton family are still involved in the organization. Today, the group serves one in seven Tempe residents.

TCAA has successfully operated the Interfaith Homeless Emergency Lodging Program (I-HELP) for many years as well. Each day when they open their doors, a plethora of individuals are lined up, awaiting services.

“People new to our programs go through a pre-screen process,” said Othniel Talposh of TCAA. “If they are eligible, we then do a private in-take process which involves a lot of personal questions about their history and current situation. When we aren’t doing intakes, we are assisting participants with finding transportation, resources, benefit applications, and answering numerous phone calls. In the late afternoon, we meet our participants at the shelter and touch base on their goals and needs. Throughout our day we encounter disgruntled and/or stressed/frustrated clients as we serve a delicate population, but we are usually able to successfully de-escalate these situations.”

Regardless of what each day may bring, the end goal is for those served to reach independence and a stable lifestyle. A TCAA staff member, David De La Cruz, stated they enjoy being able to assist in the community they grew up in and work with people dedicated to helping those in need.

“Overall, success is when a participant works hard in our programs and obtains self-reliance,” Kent said. “However, success is an individual determination and even the small ones should not be overlooked. What I might consider a success for myself, might seem trivial to someone else. For the unhoused that we serve it could mean obtaining an I.D.; for someone utilizing our hunger relief programs, it could mean becoming stable enough not to need our food boxes any longer.”

One participant of the TCAA program and the recent recipient of our Norton Achievement Award, said “I didn’t think I qualified for housing assistance and TCAA helped me out with rent. TCAA helped me realize my potential and find employment that suited my lifestyle.”

If you’re interested in volunteering for TCAA, there are plenty of opportunities to do so!

“Volunteers are essential to TCAA; in fact our volunteers outnumber our staff,” Kent said. “Individuals and groups make up our vibrant volunteer team at TCAA. Most roles are flexible and several are family friendly. Some of our opportunities are in the food pantry, community gardens, home delivered meals, providing a meal for our I-HELP participants and more. Please visit our website for a more complete listing and to sign up for a volunteer orientation.”


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