By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the ongoing war to eradicate poverty in the United States.
Since 1965, when the war was first launched, the non-profit agency, known as the Southeastern Tidewater Opportunity Project, (STOP) organization was fueled with state and federal dollars to provide services to help millions of Americans escape poverty and dependence.
On November 21, at 12 noon at the Chesapeake Marriott, STOP, the area’s largest community action agency, will celebrate its history in Hampton Roads as one of the oldest weapons in the nation’s war against poverty.
Not only will STOP celebrate a half century of service, but also its surviving cuts in funding to run programs, and a brief spell of controversy over fiscal mismanagement. Agency leaders and staff will also celebrate their efforts to overcome the troubles and reconstruct the agency’s policies, mission and operations to move forward with its reputation still standing.
The agency has embraced its “total family” and holistic concept to help vulnerable families and individuals become self sufficient and not dependent on public assistance.
The agency still deploys an array of traditional programming to provide employment training, assistance with housing, transportation, crisis intervention and housing weatherization.
The agency is part of the network of agencies through its Supportive Service to Veteran Families, (SSVF) which has reduced the number of homeless veterans and their families in the region.
Programs like Klean Slate allow the agency to provide landscaping and services to generate the non-government funding it needs to supports its goals.
“We are about futuring now … not looking back,” said Regina P. Lawrence, the current President and CEO.
Lawrence has worked in various capacities at the agency for over four decades and is its seventh leader. Her eyes have seen the evolution of the agency over time and how it has managed to endure over the long haul as the nation’s war on poverty has changed in cope and philosophy.
“Our mission is still the same,” she said. “But instead of a hand out, we believe in a hand up to help people enable themselves instead of being dependent. We apply the resource of all departments to enable an individual or family become independent and productive members of our community. That’s fighting poverty.”
The nation’s war on poverty gave birth to a long list of agencies and programs which spent millions of dollars to achieve its aim over the past half century.
While the pace of that spending has slowed, and the list of antipoverty programs curtailed, the number of poor and their needs have continued to grow.
Curtailing programs, partnering with public and private agencies to stretch the available funding dollars and raising more on its own is part of the STOP, Inc.’s “reconstruction and adjustments,” Lawrence says.
The agency has also unveiled an effort to rebrand itself. Known for 50 years as the Southeastern Tidewater Opportunity, Organization, it will now be known as STOP, Inc. or “Supporting Transformational Opportunities for People!”
“We have seen a lot of changes over the years, but I think we are moving forward with a new direction based on a sound foundation, mission and leadership,” said George Reed, the current Chairman of the Board, who will be leaving that post this year.
Reed has been board chair since 2011 and was with the agency duringis birth, assisting in setting up its filing and systems.
“We have managed to continue to provide various services, to vulnerable populations of this region, at a times when there are few dollars from state and federal sources,” said Reed. “We have done this by being more imaginative with using funds service delivery. We have adopted a results-oriented system of administration of our dollars to maximize them and ensure that we lift people out of poverty and on their feet. Just imagine what would happen if agencies like STOP did not exist. We cannot measure how much we have made a difference in the lives of the individuals and families in this area..”
State Senator Louise Lucas was the fifth Executive Director of the agency and first woman. She secured a job at the Shipyard via its employment training program as its first female pipefitter.
“A lot of people who are now doing some great things began their professional careers at STOP from a program or working at the agency,” said Lucas, who will be the keynote speaker at the anniversary event. “STOP has made the difference in the lives of so many people who have gone on to be leaders and professionals in all walks of life.”
STOP, Inc.’s area of operations extends some 4,500 square miles, which includes the cities of Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Virginia Beach and Western Branch. On the Eastern Shore, the agency now services Accomack and Northhampton Counties.
The non-profit will honor the cities and agencies which worked to create it 50 years ago: Chesapeake, Franklin, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Virginia Beach and the Counties of Isle of Wight and Southampton and The Planning Council located in Norfolk, Virginia.
The agency will bestow life time achievement awards on five individuals who have assisted in helping it carry outs it mission: Brenda H. Andrews, Publisher and Owner, The New Journal and Guide Newspaper; George C. Crawley, Former STOP Executive Director and Norfolk Assistant City Manager; Claudia B. Gooch, Vice President for Community Planning and Development, The Planning Council; Myrtle B. Humphrey, Former STOP Head Start Parent Policy Council Liaison; and Ruby H. Walden, Former STOP Head Start Teacher.
It will also honor its community partners: Boleman Law Firm, G. Russell “Rusty” Boleman, III, Chairman; PNC Bank, Kathryn R. Clay, Vice President/Community Consultant for Community Development Banking; Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority, Clarissa E. McAdoo, Executive Director; Taylor and Walker PC, Christopher J. Wiemken, Esquire; and TowneBank, Kathy M. Ferebee, Senior Vice President of Commercial Lending.
Norfolk’s Ghent community is now known as one of the most stable and prosperous neighborhoods in the city. But when the STOP, Organization opened its doors in 1965, it was the place where it dispatched its newly minted troops in the war on poverty.
The STOP Organizations was the mother of a number of the area’s most recognized antipoverty agencies such as the FoodBank in 1980, which was an outgrowth of STOP’s Southeastern Virginia Nutrition Alliance, which it sponsored at the time.
Also the seeds for the birth of the Sickle Cell Association of Hampton Roads were planted by STOP 38 years ago.
“There were many problems and STOP was sent there to set up shop with programs for youth, elderly and educational services,” said George Crawley.
“People should be proud of the legacy of STOP and how it has been so innovative and effective in helping people realize their life potential and stand on their own two feet.”
For more information about STOP, Inc., call (757) 858-1364, or go to www.STOPinc.com.