PASCO -- The Benton Franklin Community Action Committee is taking steps to make it easier for the nonprofit to help struggling families in Benton and Franklin counties.
Some changes are structural. A recent remodel of CAC's Pasco office created a single lobby for families to apply for housing and energy assistance.
The nonprofit is holding an open house from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at 720 W. Court St. to celebrate its new name and remodeled building.
Another change is the name on the sign of the building. Starting Tuesday, it will be doing business as Community Action Connection.
"So many people know us as the CAC, but they don't tie Benton Franklin Community Action Committee to CAC," said Judith Gidley, the nonprofit's executive director.
And Gidley said the group, created in 1966, isn't a committee. Community Action Connections made more sense.
"We connect people to the community," she said.
And CAC now can be found under "C" in the phone book, she said.
As of Friday, CAC's new sign adorned the front of the building.
When visitors walk through CAC's main entrance, they will take stairs or the elevator to the second-floor offices for housing and energy assistance. Both lead directly into a central waiting room, which Gidley said can fit about 40 people.
It is more waiting room than they had before the $185,000 remodel, when energy and housing assistance were in different parts of the building, she said. And the housing assistance office had a tiny room with only a couple of chairs, which sometimes forced people would wait outside.
Now, it is one stop to a window for housing assistance or another for energy help. And Gidley said they added bathrooms for clients.
The lobby also will have a computer console where people can apply for welfare and food stamps with the state instead of going to the state Department of Social and Health Services office in Kennewick, Gidley said.
Debra Biondolillo, the nonprofit's supportive housing department director, said they have more space to grow.
It is made the process smoother for clients, who may receive help with housing and utilities, she said. The remodel started in February and was finished about two months ago.
CAC started Home Base Connections about a year and a half ago, where clients turn in one application for 13 programs for the homeless that the nonprofit administers.
Now, that has been streamlined. The application can be entered into a computer to determine eligibility for all the programs, Gidley said.
A family development specialist will choose which programs a client is eligible or best suited for, and has available funding, she said.
In the first nine months of this year, Gidley said CAC determined 697 households were eligible for some housing assistance out of the 718 who applied. Of those, funding was available to help 439 households so far.
Last year, 3,920 households received help from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP) program, and 380 more households received energy assistance through donations made to Helping Hands and Care Neighbors programs, according to Gidley's annual report.
Predictably, CAC, which receives federal, state and county money, is facing funding cuts. For example, the LIHEAP fund will drop from $1.5 million to $900,000 next year, Gidley said.
Also as part of the remodel, the childcare lending library has been moved to a more accessible location on the first floor. The library was created four years ago and includes educational toys, books and supplies for child care workers to use.
The literacy classroom, where adults study for their GEDs and meet with volunteer tutors, has tripled in size, Gidley said.
Overall, it's a better use of the nonprofit's space, she said.