Robinson to observe 50 years at NECAC

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Janice Robinson will observe 50 years with NECAC on Sept. 28. She has held several titles over the years and currently is deputy director for community service programs. Brent Engel

BOWLING GREEN, Mo. — As she approaches a rare career milestone, Janice Robinson recalls a little fatherly advice and a desire to help people motivated her to carry on.

Robinson, deputy director for community service programs at the not-for-profit North East Community Action Corporation, will celebrate 50 years with the agency on Sept. 28.

“Being at a workplace for 50 years to me is to be a visionary, looking outside the box and keeping your eye on the prize,” she said. “Being open to positive change impacts lives, so don’t give up on your hopes and dreams. A quote by Helen Keller has inspired me during my journey with NECAC. She said, ‘Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.’”

Robinson graduated from Bowling Green High School in spring 1971 and worked part-time that summer for a Bowling Green accounting firm.

The top song that year was “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night. Cigarette advertising was banned on radio and television. Southwest Airlines began operations. Intel introduced the microprocessor. The average price of a gallon of gas was 36 cents. In Bowling Green, a location was chosen for a U.S. 54/U.S. 61 bypass, Ruth Jensen Village broke ground for two cottages, the former school on Locust Street was sold to a Kansas City firm for $7,500, the crop outlook was described as the best in years and customers of the Bowling Green Kroger store could buy five loaves of bread for $1.

That same year, 44-year-old Charles Thomas took over as executive director of the Daniel Boone Community Action Agency, which NECAC was known by at the time. An aunt told Robinson about a clerk position opening.

Community Action had been formed seven years earlier with the signing by President Lyndon Johnson of the Economic Opportunity Act. It paved the way for new programs in education, employment training, community progress and family development. Robinson started with a philosophy handed down by her dad, Ezra (Casey) Orf.

“My father always said, ‘Never think you’re better than anyone else, but know that you’re just as good as everyone else,’” Robinson said. “I hold that true in every one of our clients who comes through the door, because it’s the right thing to do.”

Robinson worked as a receptionist, accounts payable employee and executive secretary. She was promoted to Community Services Block Grant director on Jan. 2, 2002, and to her current position on April 1, 2004. Coming to work has never been a challenge.

“I’ve seen the difference we make in people’s lives every day,” Robinson said. “What we do out there is a never-ending job.”

Of the thousands of NECAC clients Robinson has seen, one stands out. An immigrant woman and her two children moved to Missouri from California. She had no job or housing and could barely speak English.

NECAC helped the family get a place to live, and the mother found a job at a nursing home. The agency continued to work with her, and eventually the woman enrolled in medical school. She’s now a doctor.

“She still stays in touch with us and says how important we were when she was in a time of need,” Robinson said. “That’s why our work is so important. She did not give up, and we did not give up on her.”

Another milestone awaits Robinson. She and her husband, Phil, will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in January 2022. They are the parents of a son, Jerad, and two daughters, Chelsea and Kristen. They have nine grandchildren.

Robinson isn’t quite sure of her next step. She wants to retire but can’t put aside the eagerness to help others that still burns strongly after five decades.

“My future plans are to take some time for myself, travel and spend more time with my precious grandchildren,” she said. “But I will always be ready to lend a helping hand to someone in need.”

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