By Michael Sznajderman
Sometimes, a little help can make all the difference.
For 30 years, that’s been a guiding principle for the Alabama Business Charitable Trust Fund (ABC Trust). And over those 30 years, that help has added up to make a big difference for hundreds of thousands of families across the state.
“I would say, over the past 30 years, the community action network and the nonprofit human services network across the state would not be as impactful as we are today without the support of the ABC Trust,” said Kris Rowe, executive director of the Community Action Association of Alabama. “They haven’t just been just a provider of funding. They have been a real partner to the community action network.”
Created by Alabama Power in 1992, the ABC Trust works with community action agencies, nonprofits and the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs to support the energy needs of low-income families in 60 counties in central and south Alabama. The trust works with partner organizations to support weatherization projects and other basic human needs.
During those 30 years, the ABC Trust – which is not funded with ratepayer dollars – has grown and evolved its energy assistance to meet the changing needs of lower-income Alabamians and the nonprofit agencies that work with them.
“It’s incredible to think about this milestone for the ABC Trust,” said Tan Grayson, who manages the trust as part of Alabama Power’s Charitable Giving organization. “And while it’s great to look back on the accomplishments, we are definitely looking forward, with a focus on continuing to serve some of our state’s most vulnerable citizens.”
At the core of the ABC Trust mission is providing emergency assistance for families struggling to pay their energy bill. Since its founding, the trust has distributed more than $34 million in emergency energy assistance to low-income families through community action agencies and nonprofit partners.
But the trust does much more. Today, it also provides other emergency support for families, including rental assistance and help with food security.
Another type of energy assistance is offered through the trust’s Home Forward program. It provides grants for energy system upgrades and energy-related weatherization improvements for low-income households. Eligibility is determined through the trust’s community action agency partners.
The Home Forward program is a double blessing. Not only does it offer valuable energy efficiency improvements to the homes of families with limited resources; those improvements also help families save money over the long term on their utility bills.
“Without the funds provided by the Home Forward grant, many of our low-income clients would not be able to receive the additional energy saving measures we are able to provide,” said Luke Laney, Housing Services director for the Community Action Agency of Northeast Alabama, headquartered in Rainsville. “These additional funds help these vulnerable populations lower their energy costs, so that their money can be used for food or other necessities.”
A similar concept applies to the trust’s Efficiency Forward program. Created in 2007, it provides grants to human services nonprofits – such as homeless shelters, children’s advocacy organizations and food pantries – for energy efficiency upgrades to their facilities. Like the Home Forward program, Efficiency Forward helps lower energy costs, but in this case for nonprofits helping people in need. Those nonprofits, in turn, can redirect the savings to providing additional services to clients.
Another more recent offering is the ABC Trust Community Grant program. It provides modest grants to nonprofits to support health and human services programs, and for energy assistance programs for Alabama households with incomes that are at or below 200% of the federal poverty line ($26,500 for a family of four). During the past three years, Community Grants have been available to support Alabama nonprofits addressing human needs related to the pandemic.
“The pandemic posed significant economic challenges for low-income families, and for many nonprofits that work to address human needs in our state,” Grayson said. “We were able to use the Community Grant program to provide them with some relief.”
Rowe, with the Community Action Association of Alabama, has had a decades-long relationship with the ABC Trust. It started in the late 1990s, when he was weatherization manager for the Community Action Agency of Baldwin, Escambia, Clarke, Monroe and Conecuh counties, now known as the Community Action Agency of South Alabama.
At that time, Rowe said, the ABC Trust was already offering innovative programs to help low-income families in ways that helped fill gaps left by other philanthropic and government agency programs.
Rowe continued to work closely with the ABC Trust after becoming CEO of the south Alabama agency. And the relationship continues today in his capacity as leader of the statewide community action association. He said the foresight and innovative thinking that marked the ABC Trust in its early days carry on to today.
“The trust is always looking forward on how it can help improve on what it does, to help change lives. The trust has always exhibited that,” Rowe said.
Grayson said the ABC Trust board of directors continues to assess the effectiveness of trust programs, in close coordination with the community action agencies and other human services nonprofits. The goal: to ensure the trust remains an efficient and effective resource for families who are truly in need.
“We are proud of the ABC Trust’s legacy of service over the past 30 years,” Grayson said. “But it’s also clear that the needs of many Alabamians are still great.
“The trust is committed to being a positive force in supporting families in our state,” Grayson said. “Working with our partners, we want to continue to make a difference in the lives of Alabamians.”
For more information about the trust and its programs, visit powerofgood.com and click on ABC Trust.
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By Michael Sznajderman