Published Thursday, November 29, 2012
By MARIANNE THOMASSON
For 44 years, Minnie Robinson has seen the face of poverty grow older in Coweta County.
As the director of the Community Action For Improvement service center in Newnan, she has fought the color barrier while removing barriers that keep people poor. She addressed the Newnan Kiwanis Club Tuesday at the Newnan Country Club.
“I started out with an office at Maggie Brown Elementary School, but the man across the street raised so much Cain about there being colored and white children together, I had to move. I went to City Manager Ed Joyner and he said, ‘Minnie, if you run this program, you can find another place. But if you don’t, you have to go.’”
With help from the city and Coweta County, she moved to the one-room former “colored library” on Savannah Street where she is still headquartered today. But services have expanded all over the county.
“Back in those days when mothers were on welfare, it was a hand up, not a hand out. Marion Smith of Thriftown (grocery) donated cash registers and adding machines. Playtex donated sewing machines,” and the mothers learned a trade, she said.
In the one-room building, an office was built for Robinson and programs were spawned in the other room. From that room grew the beginnings of the GED program, a day-care center, nutritional programs, the area’s first Toys for Tots drive.
Still, the elderly were ignored, she said.
Organizing people in different parts of the county, five churches got together and began taking meals to the homeless and elder, initiating the “Golden Age Meals on Wheels” program.
“We had a neighborhood youth club program. On the last day of May, we had kids ages 14 to 21 sign up for jobs. Then we would contact employers and see who would be hiring,” she continued.
Imogene Rooks, the wife of one of the Newnan Kiwanis members, helped start health care programs where elderly parents could be kept at home instead of being placed in nursing homes. Home health services followed.
“We started a teen pregnancy program where we could get teens on the pill and get them back in school,” she said.
“It has been a long journey. When we had a tornado, we worked with the Red Cross. They would pay for a motel for a few nights, and we would get up a first month’s rent for a displaced family. When Eastern shut down, laid off people didn’t know where to turn and we taught them how to get food stamps.
One of the biggest barriers for women to return to the work force is child care. “We opened our first day care on West Washington Street, Pinson Street took the babies,” she said.
Robinson also had criticism for duplication of services in Coweta.
“If we have all of these people who are hungry, why aren’t they getting food stamps? It’s OK to give them a bag of food temporarily, but food stamps last for 30 days. There are some people who will go to the food pantry and go out and sell the food,” she argued.
“If you’ve got all of these people who can’t pay their rent, ask them why,” she said.
“Is their rent higher than their income? They may need a place with cheaper rent. Can’t pay for cable? Drop it,” she said. “If you can’t pay your car payments, maybe you need a cheaper car.”
She also said good-hearted people in Coweta were being “suckered” by some. “The only time your lights are cut off is when your bill is two or three months behind and you’ve lied about coming in to pay it. We’ve got a lot of slicks out there.”
She kept on, “We are doing everything for these young parents. Ask what subdivision they live in. It could be they’re in a nicer home than you and paying little or no rent because of Section 8. They get a check for utilities, food stamps and even free phones. We need to stop giving so much and eradicate the barriers” that keep people from being self-sufficient, she said.
Another point Robinson emphasized was, “Your money’s not being used for services. It’s being used for administration. It’s usually 30 percent for help and 70 percent for administration.”
“And what kind of help goes to the elderly and those with middle incomes? Nothing,” she said. “The elderly are the ones who opened the doors for us, not these women who sit on their butts all day.”
When asked about the level of poverty in Coweta County, Robinson concluded, “People say we need to help the homeless. Where are they? In Coweta, if you’re poor, it’s by choice. We’ve got first class poverty now.”