In the office of the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem is a book. Not just any book, but one full of success stories of local businesses that started from the ground up.
This book reminds the members of the organization that they’re making a real impact in South Bethlehem. No matter how small, they just want to make a difference.
The organization, which is a part of the CACLV — the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley — opened in 1998 and now has an office on East Fourth Street in the South Side. Since then, the organization has focused on improving the quality of life in Bethlehem by giving low-income individuals a fair economic opportunity through workshops and training.
The organization breaks down its work into multiple programs, including Southside Vision 2020, which focuses on the revitalization of South Bethlehem. Another is a series of “Start Your Business” classes, which is an 18-week entrepreneurial program that’s been running for more than a decade. It also holds about six to 10 workshops per year on a variety of topics.
In addition, the corporation provides one-on-one assistance to small business owners in the South Side, helping them develop things such as websites or marketing plans.
“What interested me the most was our mission, which was to not really just give things out to individuals, or to just give them something for the moment, but really to equip them and empower them to be able to be self-sufficient,” said Yari Colon-Lopez, the business outreach organizer of the corporation. “That’s really what we do in community action as a whole.”
The book of success stories includes examples from all over the Bethlehem area, such as Carmen Toro of Beauty Alibi, a skin care and beauty company on the North Side.
Colon-Lopez said the corporation just celebrated Beauty Alibi’s three-year anniversary with Toro.
“So those are the successes, when you see them continue to stay open,” Colon-Lopez said. “It’s watching them integrate with the community and seeing them continue to succeed throughout the years that kind of makes us look back and see that these people are standing on their own feet, they’re running their own business.”
The organization’s most recent workshop was a do-it-yourself home maintenance workshop. Despite low attendance, it allowed the organization to provide one-on-one assistance to the people who came.
Jose A. Leon, one of the people to attend the event, said it was his first time attending an event from the corporation, but he said he learned a lot about topics, such as home weatherization and painting.
“I think it’s valuable because they can spend more time with you here, and you can ask more questions,” Leon said. “They have the time to answer the questions. Instead of running through, you can take your time.”
It was the first time the corporation had an event like this, and the organizers were optimistic about it even though there were only about 10 people there. Among the mini workshops offered were curb appeal, safety and insurance, home weatherization and painting.
Tim Werner, the director of the weatherization program for CACLV, said he provides free home energy audits to people who qualify. The program mainly helps low-income residents and gives them tips on weatherization to help save energy and money.
He said there’s one program that helps low-income people who can’t afford to fix or replace their heating units.
“Basically we come in and assess the heating systems and see what’s wrong with it, and if we can’t repair it, we’ll replace the heating system at no charge,” Warner said. “Those are probably the most appreciative customers.”
Dale Kochard, the chair of the housing committee of Southside Vision 2020, took his experience as assistant vice president of community and regional affairs at Lehigh and began applying it to the Bethlehem corporation. He said his main focus now is doing whatever he can to help South Side permanent residents stay in their homes.
He said early on, the organization focused on looking around the city for property owners who needed emergency repairs and provided them with some limited funding. He said this could be anything from plumbing issues to roof repairs.
“What we’ve done in the last several years is focus on the improvements of the façades of the homes that are looking at the gateways coming into South Bethlehem,” he said. “So we take some of the money that we have available, and we started a façade program on Eighth Street, and we’re giving them five-year forgivable loans.”
He said they’ll provide free repairs as long as they stay in their homes, but if they leave before the five years are up, they owe however much the repairs cost up to that point. He said this has generated excitement and encouraged people to remain in the South Side.
In general, the organization is looking to help homeowners and businesses however it can. Colon-Lopez noted the adversity some of these businesses have to go through, but seeing them succeed with the help of their organization makes it worth it.
“They have all odds against them,” Colon-Lopez said. “They’re small businesses, and they make it happen year after year. That’s really extraordinary.”