Life isn’t always easy. Everyone could end up falling on hard times at some point, and people might not always know where to go for help. At least for residents of Jackson County, there is the Jackson County Civic Action Committee, working under the direction of Diann Payne.
“We serve 637 people in Jackson County, with centers in Vancleave, Moss Point, Gautier and Taconi,” said Executive Director Payne. “Our main focus is to help people become self sufficient. Our motto is ‘Helping people, Changing lives.’ We deal with a lot of low to moderate income people who, for various reasons, can’t be self sufficient. For whatever reason, a 40-hour work week is not enough to take care of their living expenses. We assist them thorough case management to assess the household and everyone in it. We see if any non-contributors can become contributors.
“If anyone needs a GED or any specialized training, we’ll arrange that through the community college or GED program. We have our Head Start program as well. I think education is so critical to what we do here. I think if children get a quality education, they will be better citizens. They will be contributing members of our community, our state, and ultimately our country, so I really believe in education.”
Other services the center offers are income tax preparation, a senior center and summer day care.
The path that led Payne to the position of executive director was not a direct one, even commenting that she didn’t expect to be here with her educational background.
“I have a background in accounting, a masters in business, so I was the finance person here,” she said. “My husband and I moved from Memphis 32 years ago, so now I consider Jackson County home. So I was the fiscal officer, then when this job became open, I applied. I think it fits well for my passion for service. That’s probably more aligned with my natural inclination. I was raised by my grandparents, and my grandmother was always helping someone. I think you get that early on; you can build an ethnic of service in children when you teach them to help others. I worked in banking, so I probably thought I’d end up in banking, but this path i think it has suited me well.”
While Payne is in charge of everything under the JCCAC, she also stays heavily involved by volunteering in her local community.
“This job lends itself well to volunteerism because we rely a lot on volunteers, but even as fiscal officer I was a board member of local Red Cross and did family support with local Habitat for Humanity,” Payne said. “I worked with families in the process of receiving home. I track equity and help them with a budget and continued to work with them a year after getting home. I served on the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service. I served on the Governor’s Commission for Recovery and Renewal and worked in both the health and human services subcommittee and the education subcommittee. I’m the treasurer for the Pascagoula Rotary Club, and they believe Service above Self. If I didn’t know better I would say they created it for people like me. I do wear many different hats, but it’s easy to wear them when you enjoy what you’re doing.”
While the JCCAC and Payne are dedicated to helping residents of Jackson County, the goal is for people to be self sufficient.
“Some people are in a situation where they are a flat tire away from missing a day’s work, so we try to remove barriers for them; they don’t want a hand out, but a hand up,” she said. ” It is a basic human responsibility, barring a disability or illness, to be self sufficient. I think most people want to. I don’t think anybody would choose not to be. Hard work does pay. Honest work is good. With hard work, determination and initiative you can be self sufficient. Some people do get discouraged, but that’s why we’re here to encourage them, they don’t have any type of safety net or social support so we do that.”
After living in Jackson County for over three decades with her husband, Payne is happy to live in such a supportive community.
“Jackson County is unique in that while you have four municipalities, I think the county is so cohesive, and to some extent it’s all for one and for all, and you don’t see that a lot of places,” she said. “It’s not 100 percent true, but it’s more evident than in some other places. I think they really support and really help each other, the leadership does. While it’s a large county, I can see if you engage in the community you get what you give. I’ve been so blessed to be able to serve, and feel very comfortable in that no matter where I am, I’m going to know a lot of people there. We all have that opportunity here.”
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