In the community

New Community in Action director believes in helping people, building relationships

ONTARIO – Jody Warnock believes in helping people.

The new director of Ontario’s nonprofit Community in Action said she also believes in building successful relationships with her staff and community organizations and leaders.

“I think it is important that community leaders understand I want to listen to their needs,” said Warnock.

Warnock stepped into the top slot at Community in Action in February, replacing longtime executive director Barb Higinbotham.

The decision to apply for the position was based on a desire by her and her husband to eventually move closer to Caldwell after retirement.

“I have grandkids there,” said Warnock.

Her selection is the culmination of a career in social services that began more than three decades ago in Idaho. She worked for the Idaho Department of Human Services for 17 years and in 2012, changed careers and moved to Oregon. Since 2012 she worked at the Pendleton Community in Action organization where she was a program director and managed the agency’s energy and weatherization program.

Since February, Warnock has been busy learning her new job, shifting her attention away from her main goal of building relationships across the county.

“I have not been able to attend as many local meetings as I’d like during the past few months but I will have more time after July,” said Warnock.

Her first few months as director have been an education, she said.

“I’ve spent time learning about the homeless. We have a lot of different programs so I’ve been diving in trying to learn the ins and outs of those programs,” said Warnock.

For Warnock building relationships is not just another buzzword.

“Professionally one of my biggest accomplishments is my ability to build relationships with my staff and community leaders. Relationships can make or break you,” said Warnock.

Warnock said she never intended a career in social services.

“I wanted to be a dental hygienist,” said Warnock.

Community in Action, which operates services in Malheur and Harney counties, helps people with energy and weatherization assistance, support for the homeless and other community-based services.

The organization operates through donations and federal and state grants. At any given time, said Warnock, her staff of about 24 people oversee more than 50 grants.

 The agency recently collaborated with the Housing Authority of Malheur and Harney Counties on a Project Turnkey grant to establish year-round transitional housing for the homeless and others who struggle to find a place to live.

Community in Action will manage the applications process and provide tenants with services like mental health counseling when the Ontario complex opens.

Warnock said Community in Action also just hired a youth program coordinator to spearhead a program aimed at young people aged 14 to 24. The program is geared to provide positive activities for youth.

Warnock said her staff at Community in Action is the single biggest key to the success of the agency.

“I take pride that they are very knowledgeable. We have a great work environment here,” said Warnock.

Her work is about making a difference for people.

“When you’ve been in this field as long as I have it becomes kind of like an addiction. It is a challenge every day but we are solving problems every day,” said Warnock.

Warnock said her work puts her in the path of people with complicated lives.

“They get really mad if you can’t assist them. But they are also really grateful if you can help,” said Warnock.

Warnock said she’s noticed over time people often carry a different perception about getting help.

“A lot of times, people don’t want government benefits, so they will come to us,” said Warnock.

Warnock said she wants the community to know Community in Action is ready to help.

“This is a good place to seek services and resources for yourself or family members. If we are unable to help, we will try to direct you to the right community partner,” said Warnock.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

Previous coverage:

Longtime director of community nonprofit sets her sights on retirement

Coalition forms to house Malheur County’s homeless

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