Editor’s note: Long-time contributor to Adams County Jean Odom passed away on February 24. Below is an email shared by of South Central Community Action Programs, Inc. CEO Megan Shreve.
I started working at SCCAP the first time in 1987 as the assistant director of Wee Care Leaning Center. That is when I first met Jean Odom. I had the pleasure of working with her and learning from her for more than 14 years. She taught me how to serve people, to love people, and to see them as much more than the help they needed from our programs.
There are people who touch your life, and you are forever changed – Jean was that for me and for more people than we can count. She was such an incredibly blessing.
Jean Odom began working at South Central Community Action Programs (SCCAP) nearly at its inception in 1965 (then known as the Adams County Community Action Agency). Serving and caring for others was her mission and she found a place to live it at SCCAP.
She became the Executive Director in 1977 and under her leadership the agency thrived and grew to provide outreach services and respond to the growing needs in the community. During her tenure SCCAP started the Comprehensive Employment and Training Program (CETA) and the CETA Youth Program and Youth Multi Service Center Programs, Teen Parenting Programs, Senior Meals Centers, sponsorship of Green Thumb (older worker) employment, emergency assistance programing, discount grocery services, a housing counseling service, information and referral services, food pantry programs (in Adams and Franklin Counties). She expanded the first childcare for working families, Wee Care Day Care, and the Winterization program (now known as Weatherization). She started the Women, Infants and Children Supplemental Nutrition program (WIC) in our communities. Under her guidance, the agency became incorporated as a non-profit agency and became known as South Central Community Action Programs or SCCAP, formalizing our work in Franklin County.
In 1978 the agency bought its first computer. In 1990, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Commemoration celebrations began. She began the Self Help Housing program, the Parent Child Program, Parent Select (today knowns as Early Learning Resource Centers), our Shelters for the Homeless in Franklin and Adams Counties started under her leadership as well as Drop Out Prevention Services and employment programming (later known as Work Ready). Under Jean’s leadership, SCCAP provided housing rehabilitation and a multitude of other programming that helped families improve their lives.
And while the programs she started are critical to our communities, it was the way in which she served families and the culture she built into this organization that is still a pillar of who we are today. She loved people. She believed in people, and she saw their potential and worked to develop their gifts and talents and to help them see themselves as she did.
A number of current staff worked under Jean, she retired in 2005, and we have all been reminiscing, I was talking to one of my coworkers and we both said at the same time “Remember how much she loved our children?” My daughter shared with me that Jean was an important part of her childhood – a grandmother figure after my own mom passed. You felt loved and cared for in her presence, important and seen. She was with SCCAP for more than 40 years and she NEVER lost her love for people. Until her last day at SCCAP (and until her passing) when you talked to her you felt her spirit, her love, her gift of seeing you and appreciating who you were.
And while she was one of the most loving, caring people I know, she was incredibly strong! Imagine being a woman running an organization in the 1970s and a woman of color at that. She shared with us what it was like growing up during the civil rights movement. I was educated about what it was like to be black and not able to eat in the front of a restaurant and the struggle for equality, through her stories – shared without bitterness but as critical information about how we treat others. During her tenure, she struggled with loss of funding, a move to the technological age, and changes in community need and the way SCCAP needed to adapt. And she did not just do this in one county but in two – working to understand and lead human services on the ground in two communities. Breaking glass ceilings around race and gender – in two counties.
I talked with her a few months ago. And I repeated what I said to her each time we talked. “I try to make you proud every day.” And it is true. She taught me how to do this work with her spirit, her wisdom, and her caring. She has touched tens of thousands of lives and impacted more downstream. I was privileged to work with her and am thankful that we can live her legacy at SCCAP, striving to make her proud each and every day. Thank you, Jean, for living a life of courage, service, and strategic work through the lens of love! We are so much better for having known you!