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Targeting rural needs

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By Todd Cohen

DUNN, N.C. — A one-stop shop addressing human-services needs of low-income people in rural areas is taking shape in Dunn in Harnett County.

Formed in 2003 by a Peace Corps veteran who was a program coordinator at Tri-County Health Center in Newton Grove in Sampson County, the Community Service Network serves clients ranging from farmworkers, Latinos and elderly people to blacks with HIV/AIDS and women who are victims of domestic abuse.

“It’s just about getting people services when they live on limited income,” says Harold Hunter, executive director.

Hunter, who is fluent in Spanish and formerly headed HIV counseling, testing and prevention programs at the Tri-County Health Center, created a series of programs there to treat and prevent substance abuse, and to intervene with young people involved in the court system.

In 1994, he shared with the group’s executive director a community health leadership award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in New Jersey that included $95,000 for the center and $5,000 for him and the executive director.

And in 2002, he received a $25,000 grant from the foundation that he used to develop plans for the Community Service Network.

“It was always a dream of mine to be as much of a one-stop shop as possible for human services,” he says.

With an annual budget of $150,000, the group’s biggest grant has been $20,000 from the Compassion Capital Fund, the effort by President Bush to channel more federal dollars into faith-based organizations that provide social services.

Thanks to the grant, the group now has one caseworker who connect clients to medical care, coordinates their treatment, provides transportation and translation services, and helps them secure benefits such as food stamps, disability insurance and Medicaid reimbursement,

Hunter hopes to add a program to provide education on buying a home, and to continue a food-care program for children and adults that the center sponsored this summer in partnership with the Dunn Housing Authority.

He also wants to develop a facility to house the center’s administrative offices, as well as supportive housing units and employment-and-training programs he plans to establish.

And with $5,000 from the Tony Cox Community Grant Fund in New York City, Hunter has worked with Time Warner Cable Adcast in Fayetteville to produce a public-service announcement about living with HIV/AIDS in the rural south.

“The work has just begun,” Hunter says.

For information, call 910.892.8128 or visit communityservicenet.org.

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