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Poverty Fighter Retiring

PHOTO:  Jack Burch, who has battled the plague of poverty throughout his career, is retiring this week. Courtesy Community Action Council.
PHOTO: Jack Burch, who has battled the plague of poverty throughout his career, is retiring this week. Courtesy Community Action Council.
June 27, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Kentucky's statewide network of community action councils loses its longest-serving executive director this week.

Jack Burch, who runs the office serving low-income residents in Fayette, Bourbon, Harrison and Nicholas counties, retires Sunday. Involved and impacted by the civil rights movement while growing up in Memphis, Burch has spent half of his life - 34 years - helping others combat poverty.

Burch said the nonprofit council he's run since 1979 has made a "dent" in individual poverty, often known as generational poverty, but "I don't think that we have been able to transform the economy of this community to deal with systemic poverty or situational poverty."

Kentucky has a network of 23 community action councils, and Burch is the dean of executive directors. Rob Jones, who oversees the statewide system, said Burch has been a leader for the "whole network for a generation."

"Jack's intensity is something that I think picks up everybody in our system," Jones said. "He is very goal-oriented when it comes to developing programs for the poor and affecting the needs of the people in poverty."

Jones said one of Burch's greatest contributions was becoming an early adopter of public-private partnerships and continuing those efforts with fervor.

Burch said he's most proud of the Community Action Council's work to intervene in utility-rate cases to often force lower rate increases.

"And, we've been able to obtain from the utilities an agreement to provide financial support to their low-income customers," he said.

Burch does not have a dollar figure on the savings achieved through intervention before the Public Service Commission, but he said he's been told it's in the "millions."

In retirement, Burch said, he will continue to advocate for those in poverty by writing and speaking. And, he said, he will try to become a "competent glassblower," one more thing Burch is passionate about.

"But, I never had the time to stick with it long enough to get some of the skills down," he said. "So, on a personal level that's going to be a major priority."

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY