Across Wisconsin, more than a third of households struggle to afford the basic necessities of housing, child care, health care, food and transportation. That statistic, from the United Way’s 2018 ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) Report, troubles many and is one of several reasons ADVOCAP in Fond du Lac exists.
A nonprofit community action agency, ADVOCAP was founded more than 50 years ago and receives 85 percent of its funding from federal, state and local grants. One of those grants — a $128,694 grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration — will help low-income entrepreneurs.
“These funds from the SBA will help make an impact on entrepreneurs trying to take their business to the next level and make it sustainable,” says SBA Great Lakes Regional Administrator Rob Scott.
This is the second PRIME (Program for Investment in Micro-Entrepreneurs) grant ADVOCAP has received.
“These funds will enable us to continue our work with rural and low-income entrepreneurs in our three-county (Fond du Lac, Green Lake, Winnebago) service area where there is significant need for these funds,” says Mike Bonertz, ADVOCAP’s executive director.
The major concerns in the counties served include housing, health and employment — all of which the organization addresses in various ways, such as home energy conservation initiatives, affordable transportation and nutrition programs, Bonertz says.
“We design and implement programs that empower people to break the cycle of poverty,” Bonertz says.
Small business creation is part of breaking that cycle, too. Many entrepreneurs need technical assistance and access to capital. ADVOCAP can help with that as well as creating business plans, Bonertz says.
The PRIME grant will help ADVOCAP further support other startups. “This business development also will make an impact on local economies and help spur economic development and job creation in distressed areas, which is a key element of SBA’s strategy,” Scott says.
Bonertz says shoring up the economy helps alleviate poverty.
“The local areas can’t solve poverty, so these community action agencies work on this and try to deal with the needs of their area,” he says.
In some of the communities ADVOCAP serves, people seem to have a misperception about poverty.
“It’s kind of a myth that poverty is going down,” Bonertz says. “We’re using a poverty standard developed in the 1960s. (Today) we look at poverty a lot differently than that.”
The Fresh Start program in Fond du Lac County is one way ADVOCAP takes on poverty and homelessness directly. The program is a non-traditional employment and training program that works with youth ages 18 to 24 who face multiple barriers to employment. Through Fresh Start, members work on aspects of building a house while an onsite supervisor teaches skills such as setting and achieving goals, working as a team and budgeting. When the home is finished, it’s sold to a lower- to moderate-income family.
Bonertz says ADVOCAP also steps in when help is needed in the various communities it serves. For example, in July, the Fox Valley Workforce Development Board closed its Berlin location due to a loss in federal funding. ADVOCAP and its volunteers stepped forward to staff the Berlin Job Center, providing people in the community with a place to go and receive help in seeking work.
“It was too important for a city like Berlin not to have access to the services at a job center,” Bonertz said when the change was announced. “While our unemployment rate is low and the economy seems to be booming, there are still countless individuals in our rural areas that need a hand up in their job search.”