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Erv Bren continues to serve Community Action Partnership for more than 40 years

When Erv Bren took an internship at Community Action Partnership in November 1976, the organization was less than a year old. Little did Bren know that he would spend the next 40-plus years of his life making his way up through the organization e...

When Erv Bren took an internship at Community Action Partnership in November 1976, the organization was less than a year old. Little did Bren know that he would spend the next 40-plus years of his life making his way up through the organization eventually becoming executive director.

“I feel like I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to be selected as the director of this agency,” he said. “... Every day you’re presented with new challenges. It does not get boring.”

About Community Action Community Action Partnership is a non-profit agency that provides a range of services including: early headstart programs, rental counseling, budgeting counseling, weatherization programs, food pantry referrals, as well as family planning, among other services.

The agency receives federal and state funding. Bren serves as the executive director for the following counties: Adams, Billings, Bowman, Divide, Dunn, Golden Valley, Hettinger, McKenzie, Slope, Stark and Williams.

Bren said the agency has its own set of challenges in order to comply with federal regulations.

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“There’s rules, after rules, after rules that you have to be in compliance with otherwise you jeopardize losing funding,” he said.

He said he has also seen the community’s needs change in the last four decades. However, areas like housing, food assistance, early childhood education and helping people find a good job have been a consistent need over the past 40 years.

Need can also change based on the surrounding area’s economic climate. For example, Bren said it was easier for people to get a job and make money during the oil boom. But during the oil slowdown it can be a bit more difficult to find work because those hiring may be looking for someone with a certain skill-set.

“Earnings have gone down a little bit for some of the families, so we’re trying to do the best that we can on helping meet their needs at this time,” Bren said.

From intern to executive director The Dickinson-native was in the midst of earning his accounting and business degrees at Dickinson State University and needed an internship related to government accounting. The options were limited, Bren said, so he visited the Community Action office, and before he knew it he had an internship that would later turn into a full time job. Bren started his internship in November 1976, the same year the agency was incorporated.

Bren said he wanted to stay with Community Action after his internship because the organization was starting to gain momentum, and he wanted to be a part of that.

“The organization was going through kind of the growth phase, and there were new things always happening, new challenges,” he said. “Even though I’ve been doing this for over 40 years, every day is a different day. The programs are different, funders are different. You get to meet new people.”

He has been involved with the start of nearly every project that the agency has administered. Bren then became the director of CAP in 1995 after the previous director retired.

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Even though he has held the same position for more than 20 years, things are constantly changing, Bren said.

“It brings its own element of excitement and wanting to continue to build into the future,” he said.

Since he has been there from practically the beginning of the agency, Bren said he has a good historical background of where the agency was, how it has transitioned as well as its current state.

“It’s something that took a lot of work to get there,” he said. “Over the years, we’re very fortunate to have a good board of directors. … (They) basically entrusted myself to achieve the results.”

Bren added that his staff has also been an integral part of CAP’s success. He said the staff brings a wide range of expertise to the table, which has helped them to build the programs they now have.

Mark Sovig has been a member of CAP’s board of directors for 15 years and said Bren is very good at coordinating different resources and working with people outside of CAP to address the concerns of the community.

“He just is so committed to the clientele that we serve,” Sovig said. “It speaks wonders. He’s someone that’s served in different capacities before he became the director, and he and his agency has grown over time.”

Sovig said it can be challenging to work with varying amounts of funds from year to year, along with handling policies and procedures, but he believes Bren does all of those things well.

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“He’s been one that’s done that for decades,” Sovig said. “He brings a lot of experience to the table with that.”

Sovig added that Bren is very open with the board, which meets every other month, and keeps everyone involved.

“He’s proactive. If there’s issues he doesn’t just wait until the board meeting to bring (them) up,” he said. “He’ll be on the phone and visiting with you about various things.”

That is one of the many things Sovig said has enjoyed about being able to work with Bren.

“There are people that you have in your life that you truly appreciate over time, and he certainly is one of them,” Sovig said. “… He has a lot of board members that have been there for many years, and that too is a tribute to him for people that want to continue serving in that capacity.”

Accomplishing goals together The support from the community has also been positive for the agency as well, Bren said.

He said although they do receive most of their funding through the state and federal government, they also receive local funding through United Way, Salvation Army, local churches, as well as from the energy companies.

“(Companies) see a lot of the things we do by helping people because the people we help in a lot of cases are their employees,” he said. “By keeping families intact and at a position they become better employees also.”

In his spare time, Bren serves on multiple boards as way to give back to his community.

“They’ve been supportive of our mission, so I want to be supportive of theirs,” he said. “... The community has been very supportive of what we do and how we do things. We definitely couldn’t do it without them.”
CAP also works with other local entities to help accomplish their goals, he said.

“No one entity can do and accomplish the things that need to be done for people and families in our community,” he said. “So, it needs to be a joint, harmonized approach.”

Bren said he has enjoyed being able to aid in projects, such as building a low-income housing unit and an early headstart facility because they allow the agency to physically see the impact they have made on someone’s life.

“So much of the stuff that we do is hard to put an actual value on because it’s hard to put a value on how much the quality of life change is worth,” he said. “It’s definitely worth a lot, but it’s just difficult to put a monetary value on that.”

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