Thomas Flaherty: Could you introduce yourself?
Lorraine Horton: My name is Lorraine Horton and I’m Director of Community Programs.
Thomas Flaherty: Great to be talking with you.
Lorraine Horton: Nice talking with you, Thomas.
Thomas Flaherty: So, how did you get to ECA?
Lorraine Horton: I got through ECA through the heater hotline program, [I joined back] when it was under the Institute for Human Development (IHD).
The director unfortunately got very ill and he was looking for someone - some agency - to take over the heater hotline program because he started it and he wanted to make sure that it was in the hands of a program that, you know, will be a good fit. They found ECA and Miss Robinson agreed to take it on to her umbrella back at 95… September of 95 is pretty much close to when we started.
And, and so, yes I worked with the heater hotline program for about 12 years at ECA and six years prior to them (at IHD), so I had, I had a lot of experience with working with the low income clients, one on one personal over the phone to conversations about fear and situations in their homes.
I stayed with that program for like 12 years and then I was asked to work on the city's CRISIS program -ECA took that on - they asked me to supervise that program and I supervised that program for about two years under Community Programs.
And I decided to stay with the Community Programs, they had an opening for me to do the LICAP program, and I ran that program for… about five years. Am I good on years? I’ve been with ECA for… maybe 25 years.
Thomas Flaherty: <laughs> And for all our readers who might not keep up with all the acronyms now - what was CRISIS, what's LICAP?
Lorraine Horton: Okay, LICAP stands for the Low Income Conservation Assistance Program, which was a plumbing program. They did minor plumbing repairs and our neighborhood energy centers assisted in that, they had their own plumbers, they would send their plumbers out, and I’d oversee that and the billing process.
CRISIS program is the LIHEAP CRISIS program and once L&I was no longer doing it, ECA babysat it for a couple of years until the State decided on what they wanted to do with it. And that's when they took it over- to the welfare department [Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare]. So now the LIHEAP CRISIS program is being run the State. So I did that, for a little while and that's when I moved into the LICAP program through the water department. And from there I went to weatherization, downstairs, with WAP.
Thomas Flaherty: Yeah I remember that, I was here [working at ECA] by then.
Lorraine Horton: And I did data entry, building the billing part of that, the billing to the State part of that. I did the data entry for all the work that was done through the teams that went out and perform these services and I would bill for that. And then one day I was asked to go back to Community programs and be the director and…yeah! That sounded like a great place- I love Community programs, I love working with the neighborhood energy centers and I love working with the people and the community. So I’m back at a really good place now, someplace where I really, really love to be. So - overseeing the neighborhood energy centers, having a great relationship with everybody… and that's pretty much my 25 years in.
Thomas Flaherty: That’s fantastic! So when did you start getting to know the NECs, were you part of the hunting park board before.
Lorraine Horton: I was on the Hunting Park board-
Thomas Flaherty: Yeah.
Lorraine Horton: for about four or five years. Yeah.
Thomas Flaherty: Yep.
Lorraine Horton ECA: Yeah until I became the director of Community Programs and that's when I came off. But I did a lot of- when I was when I was working in the Community programs, and I was doing the LICAP program I was also helping out with you know other things to like the PGW workshops, I was part of the NEC meetings so I was no stranger to the program when I came through. Some things… well you know, I wasn't Jerry Bennett [prior director of Community Programs] obviously so it was a lot to learn, but I did have a pretty good idea as to what our purpose was, and that was to service our community and trying to help people you know, be able to keep their lights on, keep their, their heat going and all the utility needs… and overseeing the energy conference.
Thomas Flaherty: Mmhm.
Lorraine Horton: And helping out with the energy directory, are some of the things that I did before I before I became director of Community programs, so this is a great place to be and you get to meet a lot of interesting people.
Thomas Flaherty: Let's see… going way back, how did you get from traveling around doing jazz to institute for human development?
Lorraine Horton: Well, actually my drummer was running the the heater hotline program at IHD- Cheryl. So she came over with, and you know we all came over together. Her mother ran it before that - so whenever we didn't have a job, when we came back home, she would employ Cheryl and – <laughter>
Lorraine Horton: And then we came off the road, and I was working in a vitamin company that was like… I was, I was not a perfect fit. Actually I didn't understand why he hired me… actually he hired me because I used to work in a building he used to work in and liked anyone that know about it, and he liked me he kept me on.
Cheryl moved to Texas with her family, when she came back she became the director of heater hotline – well, not the executive director, but the manager of heater hotline and she called me up after a gig one night and she said ‘hey I have an opening, you want to come work with the heater hotline’ I was like ‘I don't know anything about it but I'll be there!’ and I that's how I dropped off from that. Yeah, after doing like 13 years with the USO… its kind of like, where that's how I kind of jumped into the regular working area.
But I really, that was pretty much serving a community as well, because we were over there entertaining troops that you know hadn't been home and like 13 months and all that so… we worked for the Department of Defense as well, the Department of Defense had shows, the USO had shows so that was pretty much how I came into that. And also a singer of our she was also working with IHD, so we we all came from the <laughter> and jazz signing, I like that, yeah that's just what happened.
But I still did music, I still did wedding bands, and I did party bands, and all down the shore and everything after I stopped working with USO, up until about 2012 or so.
Thomas Flaherty: And you've known the NECs for a bit over a decade now. How are they doing?
Lorraine Horton: Well, you know COVID was a big problem for the whole wide world, but now, this year, I think this year was one of our better years in the long time, only because the moratorium was on for a while and after it came off people were getting their shutoff notices, then there was the rental assistance program, and then it was the new Water program, that LIWAP program... this year was a really good year.
I'd like to think that i've been motivating everybody to want to do better to service their community. I am seeing an upswing in their performance and everybody's like really involved, we have good attendance for our managers meetings, and then we bought on two new agencies.
And we just have an open door, so people feel comfortable that they have questions you know we were right on it and answering and then trying to be a lot, a lot of support to the neighbor he said it's nothing to do I think they're doing a wonderful job.
Actually the neighborhood energy centers have been doing a lot of individual events, that's bringing people into their offices. Some of them actually has ventured out for satellite sites, especially strawberry mansion and then we have you a couple of agencies like... we just had a merger, which was United and Dixon House, now they're down there called Greater Philadelphia Community Alliance, so they had a big thing I don't know if I sent you that, but they have they had a big thing was on the news and the whole bit talking about the merger down in South Philly and they've been doing a wonderful job.
Of course, you know one thing that I really do like that we do in this NEC core services - budget counseling and energy counseling. Sitting down one on one with clients and using their income to show them where they could possibly cut corners, to be able to stay on these [repayment agreement] budgets, how important it is to stay on these budgets, because you're going to be responsible for anything that you that you didn't have to pay that month and they want to get it all, at one time- so yeah education is really, really great. These are things that help them to keep money in their homes, because with the price of groceries right now it's just unbelievable. So we do have a lot of agencies that have, every Tuesday or Thursday or something, have food giveaways.
Thomas Flaherty: It's a great thing.
Lorraine Horton: Yeah it's a great thing! I mean, I when I go to other states or when we meet up, with like - when we went to Fort Worth Texas.
Lorraine Horton: And everybody's networking and I talked about the - at the time it was 15 neighborhood energy centers - when I talk about the neighborhood energy centers they're like 'wow you know that's, that's really, really great, we don't have anything like that!' So we're the only ones, the only model of its kind, that people don't have to run here and there, and here and there, to say 'okay I go over here for the gas, I go here for the water, over here for the electric' -- one stop shop! And you can't beat that- personalized service.