The wind beneath the Center’s wings

Many organizations are important partners with the Center for Family Health, but none has a closer bond than the Community Action Agency.

Formed in 1965 to launch anti-poverty initiatives, the Community Action Agency, or CAA, created the Center for Family Health a generation ago.

“If it wasn’t for the Community Action Agency, I don’t think we’d be here,” said Molly Kaser, CEO of the Center for Family Health.

Marsha Kreucher, who headed CAA at the time, said launching the Center for Family Health was “a dream project.”

“What happened to that center far exceeded my vision,” said Kreucher, now retired.

CAA operates dozens of programs in Jackson, Hillsdale and Lenawee counties to advance education, neighborhood stabilization, housing development and economic self-sufficiency. Head Start is perhaps its best-known program.

The world and the agency have changed since 1965, but CAA remains committed to fighting poverty and promoting self-sufficiency, said CEO Toby Berry.

“It’s still about social justice,” said Berry.

Creation of the Center for Family Health came in response to alarmingly high infant death rates in Jackson through the 1980s.

“Jackson County’s infant mortality rate was highest in the state, outside the city of Detroit,” Kaser said.

Jackson County then had no obstetricians who accepted patients on Medicaid or without health insurance. Pregnant women who received no prenatal care came to the hospital emergency room to deliver babies, on average, nearly once a day.

Other organizations played key roles, but CAA grabbed the bull by the horns and created what was first called the Center for Health Beginnings in 1991.

Infant mortality rates dropped quickly and the number of women delivering babies in the emergency room plummeted.

“Almost immediately, it was so successful on so many levels,” Kreucher said.

Three years after the center began, it expanded to provide primary medical care and was renamed the Center for Family Health. It became independent of the CAA in 1995, which was a sign of success.

“Ultimately, the programs we start should be spun off to become part of the infrastructure of the community,” Kreucher said.

Today, the Center for Family Health collaborates with CAA to provide dental screenings and some medical screenings for children in Head Start.

“Last Spring, thanks to our partnership with the Center for Family Health in Jackson County, we successfully held our first dental treatment clinic,” Berry said. “Over 50 children received treatment. We anticipate that this will continue in future years.”

Each agency also refers clients or patients to the other agency for services.

Looking back, it is almost impossible to overstate the CAA’s role in the evolution the Center for Family Health.

“It’s the biggest and most satisfying success of my career,” Kreucher said.

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