A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

NKCAC’s new leader, Catrena Bowman-Thomas, has embraced the job, the work, and the community

By Ginger Dawson
NKyTribune reporter

The Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission, an organization whose mission is to assist low income individuals and families achieve self-reliance, accountability and autonomy, has long been a positive force in this community.

Covering an eight-county territory, each with its own neighborhood center, as well as other specialty services, it is an extensive network that has been in the area since 1966.

The headquarters of this vast network is located in Covington at 717 Madison Ave.  This is where services programs and educational opportunities are all developed and administered.

And, one person is in charge of this.  It is a big job, with a lot of responsibility.

Catrena Bowman-Thomas

About a year ago, NKCAC, in need of a new executive director, was lucky to attract the interest of Catrena Bowman-Thomas.  

With 18 years in the Community Action Council in Lexington, she has brought her indepth experience and creativity to Northern Kentucky.

Growing up in Madisonville, she went to the University of Kentucky in Lexington where she received a B.A. in Family Studies and a Master’s in Public Administration.  

After college, she went right to work for the Lexington CAC where she started out as a family services worker and worked her way up.

When Catrena arrived in Covington, she made the rounds to introduce herself to the community. She was surprised, and quite pleased with how well she was received and how welcome she was made to feel.

Some of her first impressions of Covington, in contrast to Lexington, was how there was a noticeable lack of diversity in social and civic events that she attended. A fresh pair of eyes on a situation can be a valuable insight. Overall perceptions can have many secondary implications.

This is something that she has focused on this past year, and she has reached out to civic leaders and the business community to try to change it.  

It is one implication of perception that can affect the CAC’s mission of helping low-income individuals seek employment. If you feel unwelcome to seek work somewhere, how can that be overcome?

Catrena sees it as her job to help her clients change their attitudes about seeking work in a situation that they may not feel comfortable in, and at the same time, helping employers reciprocate that same way.

The idea is to move everyone forward.

This past year also saw participation in a community action day in Frankfort, Kentucky’s capital, focused on the political process. The importance of voting was stressed as “using your voice.” Ten local individuals were educated about the political processes at the local, state and federal levels, and then were able to engage their elected representatives in conversation and express their thoughts and concerns.

Looking forward to the next year, Catrena is going to drive a focus on affordable housing in CAC’s eight counties.

One success that will inform some of this focus is the Lincoln Grant Scholar House located at 824 Greenup St. in Covington.

The Scholar House is a home for single parents who are full-time college students. Family, academic and financial support and counseling are provided in an attempt to break the cycle of poverty for its residents. Counseling is provided for life beyond college, including homeownership, is an important aspect of its success.  

Another housing issue that is being considered focuses on older children who are aging out of the foster care system.   

Consideration of the location of jobs and transportation to them is an important factor beyond the necessary counseling and support as many of these kids will not have a driver’s license or have access to a vehicle.

Catrena’s job keeps her busy, but she’s not all about work.

She is a self-professed fashionista! She blames it all on her mother.

Early on, when she was a little girl, her mother would plan and layout Catrena’s outfits every day. The habit stuck.

But, it wasn’t just a habit. It grew into something more important. It became a creative outlet.

One aspect of this creative fashion outlet was her own radio show in Lexington called Inspired Fashion.

Segments focused on “How to Accessorize,” “Foundations” (girdles and the like), “Your Best Color,” and “Bargain Shopping.”   

She also conducted fashion workshops and did personal shopping, which she confesses she will still do if anyone is interested.

Needless to say, she has raised the fashion bar at the offices of the Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission.

In fact, one of her staffers, for a particular special event, turned up wearing high heels instead of her usual Birkenstocks. She said, “I’m wearing heels just for you.”

Now, that’s what leadership looks like!

Even though long work hours push her more towards online shopping, she still loves to go out on Saturday mornings and hit the stores.

It is not hard to understand why Catrena is so good at what she does. She has an innate understanding of people and a creative streak that fuels that best kind of thinking.

“If you look good, you feel good,” she says. 

She understands that this is not just limited to what you see in the mirror.

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  1. Melissa says:

    Ms. Catrina was a fabulous asset to Lexington CAC and we miss her professionalism everyday. NKCAC is very fortunate to have her.

  2. Wilhemina Thompson says:

    Welcome to our community Ms.Catrina

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