Council of Community Services 50th anniversary: A celebration of service

The Council of Community Services celebrated its 50th anniversary Monday evening at Hotel Roanoke.

By Sheila Ellis: 981-3234
Orginally published in The Roanoke Times

The unemployment rate was less than 5 percent and the cost of a first-class stamp was 4 cents.

That was in 1960 when the Council of Community Services started to help coordinate community services, evaluate social problems, eliminate the overlap of existing human and social services, and watch over money spent by private and public agencies in the Roanoke Valley.

As the population has grown over the past five decades, so, too, have the problems with which people are struggling. Today’s pressing issues for the council include poverty, the aging population and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

On Monday evening, the council celebrated 50 years of service with a banquet at Hotel Roanoke. The more than 200 attendees included council volunteers, staff members, various nonprofit and for-profit business leaders, and several area politicians.

The council says it is the only organization in Southwest Virginia that primarily focuses on planning for health and human services as well as linking people with community resources. The council serves Alleghany, Botetourt, Craig, Franklin and Roanoke counties as well as the cities of Covington, Roanoke and Salem.

“It’s as relevant today as it ever was before,” said Raleigh Campbell, the council’s president from 1968 to 2000. “With a dramatically changing world, there is more need for the services it provides.”

The council links people with community resources such as child care, volunteerism and 2-1-1 — by dialing 2-1-1, callers receive information about area health and human services.

Pam Meador, director of the Drop-In Center, has long been fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Roanoke Valley.

“When the HIV/AIDS epidemic hit the world in the mid-’80s, the council stepped up to the plate in the late ’80s to get prevention services started,” she said.

Pam Kestner-Chappelear, president of the council for the past 10 years, said the agency faces many challenges brought by the recession. Funding for the organization is getting more difficult to receive, she said.

Kestner-Chappelear said one of the highlights of her tenure is the creation of The Nonprofit Resource Center for Western Virginia in 2006. The center helps nonprofits with grant and networking opportunities, internal management structure and tools to be viable during tough economic times.

The council was started by the Junior Woman’s Club, the United Fund, the Virginia Baptist Children’s Home and more than 70 other organizations.

It began with a budget of $13,500 and now it has a staff of nearly 50 and an annual budget of more than $2.6 million.

Despite challenges, Kestner-Chappelear said she sees a gleaming future for the council.

“Some people associate 50 years with a midlife crisis,” she said at Hotel Roanoke on Monday. “But we are just the opposite.”

The council plans to expand the tracking of more than 150 community indicators and continue to integrate technology to help streamline services and inform the public.

Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill said the council plays a vital role in the Roanoke Valley.

“It is critical for us to understand the needs in the community with budgets being tight,” he said. “Roanoke is very fortunate to have the council.”