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CAP programs help people stabilize and set goals

Kim Spencer listens.


By Kaye Hult

Everybody has a different story when they come into Community Action Partnership (CAP) seeking to improve their situation, said Kim Spencer, community services manager for the Coeur d'Alene branch at 4144 Industrial Loop.

Kim seeks to understand their stories. Some need food. Some want to weatherize their home. Some have transportation issues. Some struggle to pay utility bills.

Others have stability for their basic needs but seek someone to walk with them while they create goals to improve their lives.

"I empathize with their struggles," she shared. "Everybody has something unique and wonderful to contribute to the world. When people can't pay rent, fear homelessness or lose their transportation, they cannot focus on their future story.

"Life is a lesson, with good times and bad times. It usually balances out," Kim said. "I want people to have a better life. I want people challenged in a healthy way. I want people to thrive."

Kim has been with CAP just about from the beginning 25 years ago. CAP opened its doors in October 1997, and Kim began that November.

"Many think it's Coeur d'Alene's Food Bank, but it's much more than that," she said.

It is part of the national Community Action Partnership established when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act in 1964 and declared the War on Poverty.

CAP's mission is to be "a catalyst for building relationships that inspire and equip people to end poverty in our community."

Its vision is for the community to work together to end poverty, to be a community where "all people are equipped to achieve their potential; have sufficient resources, relationships and meaning in their lives to thrive, and are valued and able to meet their own needs by utilizing their talents, potential and passions."

With nine staff and about 50 volunteers, CAP carries out the mission and vision in three ways.

• First, they stabilize clients with shelter, warmth and food.

• Second, they encourage them to achieve their goals. Where do they want to go next? "They decide the goals, and we walk alongside them," Kim said.

• Third, staff seek to engage them in the community.

"Often when people come, they can't think about their future," Kim said.

CAP offers two programs to help people reach their goals: stabilizing programs and transformational programs.

The stabilizing programs include energy assistance, weatherization and the food bank.

The energy assistance and weatherization are federally financed and have income guidelines, but the food bank is open to all in Kootenai County. No documentation is required.

The Coeur d'Alene branch is a hub for CAP services in five North Idaho counties—Boundary, Bonner, Kootenai, Shoshone and Benewah—and six North Central Idaho counties—Clearwater, Idaho, Latah, Lewis, Nez Perce and Asotin.

Those hoping to weatherize their homes learn affordable ways to improve energy efficiency. They apply to the weatherization team in Lewiston.

CAP energy assistance comes from several sources.

The federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) has income guidelines regardless of whether someone heats with wood, oil, propane, electricity or natural gas. They do not need to be behind on their heating bill. They qualify based on income. However, in one program, Crisis, people can receive service only after their final notice bill.

Both Avista Utilities Idaho and Kootenai Electric Cooperative (KEC) have programs for customers to donate to help others with utility bills. Avista's Project Share assists with heat or electricity. KEC's Operation Round-Up helps members with electricity bills. Those needing assistance with their heating and electricity are often on fixed incomes, in seasonal work or in the hospitality industry.

The recent housing crisis is hard for many, she said.

"When we offer to help, some say to save it for someone who needs it more," said Kim.

"When I was a young stay-at-home mother with two little boys, my husband was a seasonal worker," she said. "Winters were hard because there was less work. Our bill was overdue, and I called for help, but refused it, because I thought others could use it more.

"I appreciate people who do accept help," she said. "I wish we had accepted it."

Transformational programs help people who are stabilized but still living in poverty work on goals to move forward.

"We walk with them, but they use their strengths, talents and potential to do this," Kim said.

As family coaches, CAP staff brainstorm strategies to help families reach their goals.

"CAP's work is about building relationships," she said. "Through networking, we understand what other area agencies do and what resources they have. If we don't have the resources clients need, we put them in touch with agencies that do."

 During COVID, CAP's doors were closed for two years, only reopening last April, so they learned to work differently. They emailed people. The food bank made appointments. People drove up and had food delivered to their car, she said.

Kim was born in Boise, went to school in Sandpoint and has lived mostly in Idaho. In college, she began studying journalism, then tried marine biology but dropped out to raise her family.

"I've been schooled in this agency," said Kim, who started at CAP soon after she returned to Idaho after separating from her husband in Oregon.

When she interviewed with her predecessor, she said his words tied into her empathy and wanting to walk alongside people who are struggling.

Kim had several roles before she became community services manager five years ago. In that role, she gives her staff tools, training and support. Community service staff have several months of family coaching training to help families focus beyond a crisis and think of goals to shine their light in the community.

"People have beauty to share," she said. "They just need the bandwidth of support to help them focus on their goals and find avenues to share their gifts."

For information, call 208-664-8757 or visit

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, February 2023