Communication Action Agency case worker retires after decades of service
For almost 5 decades, scriptures inspired Norma Harvey’s work with the Community Action Agency of Northeast Alabama.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” — Matthew 25:35-36.
Verses like that were at the forefront of Harvey’s mind when she began working with the agency through a 6-week after school program in 1969. Her responsibilities at the time included simple tasks like filing paperwork or organizing the clothes closet, and she did them with a joyful heart. She became a full-time staff member in 1973.
“I didn’t look at it as a job,” she says. “I looked at it as a ministry.”
Harvey retired as a case manager in December, but her legacy will live on through those she helped over nearly 50 years.
“I never, ever thought of my job as going to work, it was always a joy to me and a pleasure,” she says. “I’ve always been blessed to work with that agency to make a difference each day in someone’s life.”
She worked at the Bridgeport CAA office during her time with the organization, where she was trained by Johnnie Cloud. “She was a very special lady,” Harvey says.
The Community Action Agency was founded as part of the War on Poverty, social welfare legislation championed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. The CAA of Northeast Alabama was established in an effort to support low-income families and to reduce poverty in Jackson, Marshall, DeKalb, Cherokee, Blount and St. Clair counties.
The CAA receives grants from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, along with other agencies, to help people in the area who need assistance paying for food, prescriptions, transportation, utilities and rent. The CAA even helps people make their homes more energy efficient.
“We would weatherize houses — do the insulation and have storm windows installed,” Harvey says.
One of the better-known CAA pro- grams is the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Grant, which provides assistance to those struggling to pay heating and cooling energy bills. Harvey recalls an elderly woman who didn’t have an air conditioner, so she purchased a window unit and installed it herself.
During her time as a CAA case manager Harvey assisted people from all walks of life. “You never know who you will come in contact with and something you say can make a difference,” she says. “I’ve been in people’s houses when they didn’t have anything in their cabinet to eat.” And when Harvey saw someone needed food, she made sure the pantry got stocked.
A Legacy of Caring
Harvey developed such a positive reputation in the area that a Bridgeport business owner told her not to hesitate to ask if she ever needed a donation for some- one. Contributions from local businesses also helped fund the CAA’s Christmas for Children drive, where the agency would buy gifts and make food boxes.
Harvey’s favorite part of her job was that each day brought something new. She helped develop many new initiatives in the area, including Smiles, a dental clinic offering low-cost services.
“My friend Bobbie Hubbard asked me what a need in the community was, and I noticed a lot of people don’t have access to affordable dental service,” she says.
Smiles began almost 10 years ago, and Hubbard now serves as the executive director. It’s located in the old National Guard Armory in South Pittsburg, Tennessee. Initially, the clinic began offering free tooth extractions. Over time, the pro- gram grew to include affordable dentures and partials, and cleanings for a low cost.
Over her decades with the CAA, Har- vey has built a reputation for kindness, caring and dedication that won’t soon be forgotten.
“Our entire administration team views Norma as an example to follow,” CAA Development Director Maggie Bell says. “She shows so much love for her county, she’s helped so many organizations get started. She’s an inspiration to me person- ally and she knows everyone. I want to be that for our organization and have a heart like Norma.”