Last updated: February 15. 2013 2:39PM - 537 Views

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The Commission on Economic Opportunity is probably best known for its programs to help people in need put food on their tables and keep their houses warm. At this time of year, those services are in high demand and require significant resources from an agency funded by a unique blend of private and public sources.

The commission is one of 12 community organizations featured in the Times Leader’s annual Giving Guide, which began on Thanksgiving. Readers are encouraged to donate to the featured organizations in order to help them continue to serve residents of the Wyoming Valley.
While food banks and home fuel assistance programs may be among the best known CEO efforts, the commission that bills itself as “people helping people” provides many other services aimed at helping people help themselves. Just ask Edwardsville resident Irene Kempa. Until two years ago, Kempa was a stay-at-home mom of four adult children. She found herself raising three grandchildren. Then her husband was disabled by a stroke. Suddenly, Kempa needed to be the family breadwinner. “I didn’t even know what a resume was,” said Kempa, 49. “If it wasn’t for the CEO’s Supportive Work Program, I don’t know what I would have done.”
Through that program, Kempa said she brushed up her job hunting skills and got assistance with a work-appropriate wardrobe and bus tickets, which helped her get and keep a job to support her family. Kempa said the CEO continues to help in other ways, too. “They helped me get winter clothes for the kids, and they are being Santa’s elves this year, too,” Kempa said. “The CEO staff—all of them—are just wonderful people.”
Gretchen Hunt is part of that staff. As a nutritional educator and coordinator of the after school program, she spends much of her time looking after the nutritional needs of more than 1,000 kids per day. Besides the meals served in after school care programs, Hunt said the CEO helps kids over the weekend with a backpack program that sends home ready-to-eat foods. There are programs to provide frozen meals to senior citizens, too, along with the food bank that helps supply 200 organizations in four counties, said Hunt.
There is also the home heat assistance program the commission is known for, she said. “Heating is such a huge issue, especially now,” Hunt said. “Mostly we hear from people who have already had their heat shut off or it’s about to be shut off or their fuel tank is empty. It’s hard now because heating oil is so expensive. The companies aren’t going to make a delivery of $200; you need $600 or $800 or $1,000. Even with the mild weather we’ve been having, we’ve seen an increase in the people needing help with heat.”
While the need for fuel assistance is huge, it is also seasonal. Many CEO programs such as the food bank and the Supported Work Program help people all year long, Hunt said. Kempa would agree.
“I’m persistent and I would have worked hard to find a job on my own,” Kempa said, “but I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today without the CEO’s help. You know, paying the heat bill for people is a good thing and it’s appreciated, but it doesn’t help you next month. The thing they do that’s so good is they help you get on your feet so next month, you won’t need their help to pay your bills.”
On the Web
To give: Send check made payable to Commission on Economic Opportunity, 165 Amber Lane, PO Box 1127, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18703-1127
To volunteer: Call the office in Wilkes-Barre at 570-826-0510, ext. 215
To donate items: Call the office at 570-826-0510
Wish list: $20 gift cards for stores that sell diapers and formula—items that are in high demand but bulky to store; cash donations for fuel program and for the kids’ food backpack program--$25 will fill a backpack each week for 10 weeks; CEO could also use the assistance of church or community groups to pack and store backpack items
Agency’s mission: aims to create alliances between private, public and faith communities to alleviate poverty and promote self-reliance, with an emphasis on assisting children, their families and the elderly
Service area: Luzerne, Lackawanna, Susquehanna and Wyoming Counties
Year established locally: 1965
Executive director: Gene Brady
Web site: www.ceopeoplehelpingpeople.org
Read all the Giving Guide stories at timesleader.com

Questions about the “Giving Guide” can be directed to Anne Woelfel via e-mail, at awoelfel@timesleader.com, or by calling 829-7232.
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