A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

NewsMaker 2020: Catrena Bowman-Thomas helps families out of poverty, seeks justice, and matters

By Judy Clabes
NKyTribune editor

Catrena Bowman-Thomas was fully prepared when she became executive director of the NKY Community Action Commission in 2018. She hit the ground running in her spiked heels – and she hasn’t stopped since.

She brought to her new job 18 years of experience with the Community Action Commission of Lexington, a wealth of education, and a solid upbringing in Madisonville, Ky., steeped in faith in a home full of love and support. Perhaps even more, she brought commitment, leadership, energy, determination – and a passion for helping families in poverty move to self-sufficiency.

Over the past year, Catrena has distinguished herself as an effective advocate and leader – for racial justice, for those in poverty, for community diversity, and for her passion for equity and equality, therefore earning her the NKyTribune’s distinguished NewsMaker 2020 award.

The CAC has long been a positive force in the 8-county region it serves. Add the ‘force’ that is Catrena Bowman-Thomas and anything is possible. Each county has its own neighborhood center as well as a vast array of other services, including child development centers.

She earned a B.A. in Family Studies and a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Kentucky with an emphasis on nonprofit management. She is a certified community action professional (CCAP) and a national ROMA (Results Oriented Management and Accountability) certified trainer. She went straight to work for the Lexington CAC and worked her way up. When she landed in NKY, she noticed a lack of diversity in leadership and at social and civic events, but said she was both surprised and pleased with her warm welcome.

That may have something to do with Catrena herself – she is several clicks above personable – outgoing, articulate, confident, and funny.

Professionalism personified, with a touch of kid and a big smile.

Catrena at work

Oh, yes – and well-dressed. She admits to being a fashionista and has made fashion a hobby. She once had a radio show focused on fashion – accessorizing, colors and shopping – and even conducted fashion workshops and did personal shopping. For her, fashion is a creative outlet, though these days she shops mostly online.

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

Catrena sees it as her job to help her clients change attitudes about seeking work in a situation in which they may not feel comfortable and at the same time helping employers reciprocate the same way. The idea is to move everyone forward.

“Catrena is a charismatic, dynamic leader and she is committed to ending the cycle of poverty. She’s spent her career helping individuals and families find a life of self-reliance,” said JC Morgan, president of the NKCAC board said.

Did we say fashionista?

The Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission has a $13-million-budget, staff of approximately 150, and 24 locations across eight counties dedicated to serving over 25,000 individuals each year through an array of programs. It grew out of the civil rights movement and the Economic Opportunity Act and is aimed at helping meet basic needs and then move families to “thriving.”

It starts with Head Start for pre-K kids to prepare them for kindergarten. It includes the Lincoln Grant Scholar House, providing 45 apartments for single parents who are going to school and need assistance with the kids, and includes senior programs for those who want to go back to work. Along the way there are financial empowerment programs, working with the Team Kentucky Fund providing food and utility assistance, encouraging voter registration and voting, addressing affordable housing issues and homeownership, career counseling and helping kids who have aged out of foster care. Just to name a few.

When the pandemic struck, all the CAC’s programs had to be redesigned to keep clients and staff safe. Food and education packets had to be delivered.

“This has been a challenging time,” she says, “and we’ve been so fortunate to be able to help. We had people who need help who had never before had to ask.”

Did we say ‘fun’?

She has been named a Kentucky Colonel and has participated in uncountable symposiums and conferences – and organized a number of those herself.

Addressing the diversity issue, she participated in the NKY Regional Implicit Bias Symposium, the Black Owner’s Business Town Hall, and the Women’s Initiative of NKY. And she was selected to the Leadership NKY program and organized a Black History Walk through downtown Covington to learn about the contributions of its black citizens.

Addressing the racial justice issue, she has been active in Black Lives Matter programs and rallied her fellow nonprofit leaders to write a series of “Advancing Equality” columns for the NKyTribune and to stand against any acts that dehumanize human beings.

In addressing these issues publicly and consistently, she is helping advance diversity in Northern Kentucky — and breaking down barriers.

A mother of three, she loves gospel music and having a good time. She and her husband are empty-nesters, and both have busy jobs and love to travel.

NewsMaker 2020

Click image to go to auction site: Bid on items, buy virtual tickets.

The NKyTribune’s “NewsMaker 2020” awards program has gone virtual this year, due to the pandemic. This week we will be celebrating our five award winners with a feature story a day honoring their success. Coming are: Brent Cooper of NKY Chamber, Robert Hoffer of DBL Law and St. Elizabeth Foundation, Ashish Vaidya of Northern Kentucky University, and Alecia Webb-Edgington of Life Learning Center.

This annual fundraiser for the nonprofit NKyTribune depends on sponsorships, virtual ticket sales and a silent auction. If you want to join the sponsors below, email judy@nkytrib.com or call 513 324 4178. You can buy virtual tickets and bid on auction items here.

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