In one corner of Steve Liga’s office, butterflies congregate; in the other corner, snow-capped mountains soar from an Alaskan national park. A couple of cheerful plants that have thrived for decades sit by the door, ready to greet guests. The CEO of Action In Community Through Service (ACTS) of Prince William County, does not think much of his office décor, but it immediately sets a calming tone for discussions about difficult topics.
ACTS serves the most vulnerable residents in Prince William County. The extensive emergency services include a 24-hour crisis helpline specializing in helping clients experiencing suicidal ideation; domestic violence and sexual assault counseling; rapid rehousing assistance; and food security programs, to name a few. It is not always an easy day at the office for Liga, his staff, and their volunteers.
“Our clients come here already feeling terrible,” says Liga. “Our clients don’t want to need help. Often, they have children who may be hungry, they may be abused and or on the verge of homelessness. It’s our job to not just to feed them—we give them food. But also nourish them and find out how to make their lives better."
Started in 1969 by a group of 13 faith communities, the ACTS campus is located at 3900 ACTS Lane in Dumfries and has been an essential frontline resource for the county—never more so than the last year. Liga joined the nonprofit in 2015, and confirms that the pandemic was unlike any challenge he has seen in almost 30 years of working with nonprofits. Most alarming has been dramatic increase of needs from clients over a sustained period of time.
From March to June 2020, ACTS domestic violence caseload skyrocketed with a 72 percent increase before leveling out to a still sizeable 40 percent above normal in late 2020. Housing has become an increasing concern and the program needing double the staff to keep pace with program requests. Most concerning, the requests for food assistance nearly doubled and have stayed high.
The increase in service requests was coupled by a predicted, but precipitous drop-off of the centers’ volunteers, many of whom are retired residents. Liga and his team quickly realized that to keep foundational services, they needed to innovate quickly to meet the needs of the community.
“We had to figure out how to do our jobs virtually, including bringing in new technology and developing new procedures for how to keep our clients’ confidentiality and anonymity,” says Liga. “People had to be at home to answer crisis calls for our neighbors—and we found ways to make it work. We found it works even better for our crisis listeners."
Although the in-person volunteering was suspended for months, the community rallied to support ACTS, with increase in monetary donations that covered many necessary expansions in programs. Yet there is only so much ACTS can do over the phone or through virtual counseling, particularly for domestic abuse and food assistance programs. The nature of the work is personal, and clients require access to in-person frontline services.
“It’s not easy to ask for help, and we always want to create an environment where our clients feel comfortable and safe,” says Liga. “The physical space of our center was old, and with the help of the Prince William County grant, we have been able to upgrade our space to meet the health, safety, and sustainability of ACTS. It looks welcoming, and it makes people feel better emotionally—and we know it’s better for everyone physically."
By allocating approximately $7.2 million from CARES Act funding, the Prince William County Capital Investment and Innovation Grant program provided funding up to $200,000 per business for 122 businesses that needed to make physical improvements to adhere to health and safety guidelines to operate safely or to make capital investments.
The grant program initially required a 50 percent match, but with key input from Liga, the Department of Economic Development worked to remove the match criteria for nonprofits and businesses with revenues under $2.5 million in revenue. Nonprofits can often operate on thin margins, maximizing the opportunities to give back to the communities they serve. Liga sits on the board of the Prince William Chamber of Commerce and is a vocal proponent of the business—and mission—of nonprofits.
"You don’t hear the phrase ‘non-profit business,’ but that is what a non-profit is,” says Liga. “If it’s a human services organization or an arts organization, there is a business to make that happen. It’s just as important as any other business in the community. If a non-profit doesn’t run and embrace the fact that it is a business, then it won’t be around to serve its mission.”
ACTS is a community-based organization open to everyone, and Liga emphasizes that the organization cannot do their work without partnering with the rich fabric of Prince William County, including other businesses, hospitals, schools, faith-based organizations and professional clubs that can best help provide full-service support.
“Neighbors is my favorite word in our mission statement because neighbors are at the heart of what I love most about my job,” says Liga. ”The community of clients we serve are our neighbors; the volunteers and donors who offer their time, resources, and money are our neighbors; and the incredible staff who work so hard are made up of our neighbors.”
Watch cinematic success stories from your community on the DED’s Building Momentum Channel, which features spotlight stories from grant program recipients:
- Staying the Path: Emerald Ironworks Expands Shop While Protecting Job Security
- Building Crisis Resiliency: ACTS Leads with a Frontline Focus
- Knowing Your Customer: Dulles Glass & Mirror’s Cornerstone Approach to Technology
- Deciding to Dance: Showcase Dance Studio Invests in Their Digital Company
Located at 3900 ACTS Lane, Dumfries VA, 22026