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Council of Community Services Still Going Strong at 50

Pam Kestner-Chappelear says the Council wants to address needs first and foremost.

by Gene Marrano

Pam Kestner-Chappelear, president of the Council of Community Services for the past ten years and an employee for 25, says she still has to answer the question often: exactly what does the social services agency do?  In fact the Council, which celebrated its 50th birthday last week with a dinner that featured former Norfolk Southern CEO David Goode as keynote speaker, wears several hats.

The Council serves as a clearinghouse for information for those in need of assistance; it helps other nonprofits with planning and vision, and it provides a handful of services on its own. Bringing people and agencies together to solve social issues is a major mission, according to Kestner-Chappelear. Using the website wisely; stocking it with information and downloadable reports has helped keep costs down and made the Council more efficient.

The Council helped launch 2-1-1 Virginia, a statewide telephone hotline where those seeking financial assistance, shelter and other social programs can find information by dialing those three numbers. At its Campbell Avenue headquarters the Council is one of six locations around the state that answers calls 24 hours a day. “We’ve always been that information hub,” said Kestner-Chappelear.

Along the way the Council formed Total Action Against Poverty in 1965, which is now an independent entity. It also created a Senior Advisory Council, a childcare agency, the League of Older Americans, helped develop the RADAR transportation service, a free health clinic, shelters for women, Foundation for Roanoke Valley, a Botetourt Resource Center and a drop-in center where people can be tested for HIV.

The Volunteer Roanoke Valley program maintains and distributes a list of places where local residents can volunteer their time, even for just a day or two at a time. Child Care Link has provided training on child abuse prevention and neglect in Roanoke, Montgomery and Franklin Counties.

In 2009 the Community Housing Resource Center made its debut, a place where people can find help with paying their electric bills for example, and assistance with paying for shelter when they are homeless.  “We have a plan to end homelessness,” vows Kestner-Chappelear, who was once a probation officer.

The profile of those in need of the services and support provided by the Council has changed, with the middle class “finding themselves in dire straits,” according to Kestner-Chappelear – it’s not just the poor who come knocking on their door.

A regional conference to be hosted by the Council in September will feature the top officers from local non-profits, to look down the road at what they need to survive. “We have to start thinking differently,” said Kestner-Chappelear, who believes a leaner model will be the norm, with less dollars available overall. “It’s a real challenge,” she concedes.

The Council coaches other organizations on the “six elements of high-performing non-profits,” according to Kestner-Chappelear, who attended Emory & Henry, then Virginia Commonwealth University for a master’s in social work, before joining the Council staff under then-president Raleigh Campbell. Despite being around for 50 years, she said the Council is “very strong [but] just now coming into our own.”

Funding for various programs has been boosted in recent years by federal stimulus money, but Kestner-Chappelear knows that could be coming to an end soon. That’s why the Council and other social agencies should avoid what she calls “mission creep,” and stick to what they do best.

David Goode was a natural as the keynote speaker at the Hotel Roanoke 50th anniversary bash last week, according to Kestner-Chappelear. “He understands what happens [with non-profits],” she said of the Vinton native, now retired from Norfolk Southern. “We knew he had a message that would resonate”

She may have difficulties from time to time in explaining what it is the Council of Community Services does, but the organization’s president believes the mission is very clear: “our goal is to get needs met,” said Kestner-Chappelear.

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