Guest column: MAHUBE-OTWA stays steady during change

Liz Kuoppala, MAHUBE-OTWA
Liz Kuoppala, MAHUBE-OTWA

This guest column is by Liz Kuoppala, executive director, MAHUBE-OTWA Community Action Partnership.

My vegetable plants are sprouting inside the house as the snow melts outside and invisible work readies the compost piled last fall in the garden beds. The call of the geese and swans as they fly north and the happy dance of martins settling into their summer homes remind me that although so much is different now, I can ground myself in what is familiar.

At MAHUBE-OTWA, we closed our doors to the public on March 23, a gut-wrenching decision for an organization that exists to serve the public. Now we do our work over the telephone or through applications or notes left in the drop boxes at our front door. When it feels like too many things are changing, we ground ourselves in what is not changing. Things that have been with us for over 50 years:

Promise of Community Action. Community Action changes people's lives, embodies the spirit of hope, improves communities, and makes America better place to live. We care about the entire community, and we are dedicated to helping people help themselves and each other. This is the promise that binds the work of 1,000 sister organizations across the country, all of whom are with us in our current crisis. We look to them for ideas and inspiration and they look to us when they need the same.

Mission & Purpose. We empower people to achieve self-sufficiency. We help people help themselves and each other. We ground ourselves in our mission and purpose when so much around us is changing. We strive, as we always have, to find ways to connect meaningfully with people who are disconnected and share with them resources we know about that could help them.


Values. Community-minded; resourceful; client-focused. These values describe who MAHUBE-OTWA is and who we’ve always been when we’re at our best. In these uncertain times, we try especially hard to prioritize efforts that hit all three values simultaneously.

Some things are newer for us and these things too are not changing:

Whole Family Approach. Over the past few years, we’ve been working to shift our service delivery model to a Whole Family Approach with a focus on upward mobility for the whole family rather than simply efficient delivery of one service that too often served only as a bandage. We’ve added family coaches so they have more time to get to know people better and can help with strategies or resources from building social capital (friends/family network), connection to culture, and asset development (increased incomes, savings accounts). In the era of physical distancing, finding ways of connecting through technology is important work.

Family Voice. We have been working in recent years to be nimble enough to help families the way they want to be helped. In this COVID-19 crisis, our role of listening to families and changing our services to meet their needs seems more important than ever. Each day, we are calling seniors and young parents and folks in between to hear about ways they are being resilient and concerns they have that can inform the work we’ll be doing in the coming weeks and months. Listening to people is something that is not changing.

As our communities face the challenges of COVID-19, both the health crisis and the economic crisis it brings in its wake, we can find comfort as a community in things that are not changing:

  • Wash our hands; cough into our sleeves; stay home when we are sick;
  • Check in on our elders (by phone now rather than in person);
  • Send support to people who suffer (by joining the #aworldofhearts campaign, helping with local community drives for health supplies or blood or food when those asks come out).

In her poem "Wild Geese," Mary Oliver reminds us: Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on. Kandace and I have a La Virgen de Guadalupe candle burning in our home all day every day for the suffering of people we know and people we don’t during this pandemic. When you find yourself overwhelmed or lonely, anxious or depressed, know the prayers of an entire world are with you. We will get through this together. That is not changing.

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