What is Community Action?
In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson envisioned The Great Society as a sweeping plan to improve the lives of all Americans, regardless of their circumstances. Inspired by President Kennedy and his New Frontier, Johnson pledged to fulfill his promise of equal opportunity for all by enacting several comprehensive changes within the federal government. In August of that same year, the Economic Opportunity Act was signed into law by President Johnson creating the nationwide Community Action Network.
Community Action was a bold idea. It handed over control to the local level, so that programs were geared specifically for target population needs. This concept, “maximum feasible participation”, was a big change in the government and produced many innovative ideas.
Into this network we were born as Wabash Area Economic Opportunity Association. Organized by a group of interested citizens from Wabash County in Southeastern Illinois; the agency expanded to the five counties of Edwards, Hamilton, Wabash, Wayne and White in 1966 and added Gallatin and Saline in 1981. Along the way our name was changed to Wabash Area Development, Inc. or WADI as most folks know us locally.
WADI is governed by a board of directors consisting of public, private, and low income representatives of the counties WADI serves. The unique board structure is fundamental to the Community Action concept. It empowers low-income people to participate directly in the development of responses to poverty conditions; at the same time, private and public representatives gain a clearer knowledge of the issues confronting low-income people in their community.
From the start, Community Action Agencies looked for innovative methods of eliminating causes of poverty. It was through the Community Service Network that the Head Start program was developed, refined and shared with other institutions. Today, Community Action Agencies remain the single largest delivery system for Head Start Programs. Legal Services, Community Food and Nutrition Program, the local Senior Centers, Foster Grandparents, and National Youth Sports are just a few of the successful programs that began in Community Action.
Between 1964 and 1980, governors and Congress regularly adapted pilot programs from Community Action Agencies to become nationwide programs. Among the largest of these programs were energy conservation programs, now known as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Weatherization Assistance Program.
In 1981 President Reagan consolidated many domestic social programs into block grants to the states. The Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) was one of six block grant programs created under the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981. CSBG requires that 90% of the funding be spent locally to fight poverty, allowing the states to use only 5% for administrative costs and 5% to support innovative programs and fill service gaps.
Why Community Action?
Community Action equips low-income citizens with the tools and potential for becoming self-sufficient. The structure of program is unique – federal dollars are used locally to offer specialized programming in communities. It is a coordinated effort to address the root effects of poverty and to, ultimately, move families and individuals to self-sufficiency.
Poverty is viewed as a systemic problem and Community Action is a systems approach to resolving those issues. There are now over 1000 Community Action Agencies throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.
WADI is committed to:
- Helping and encouraging children and youth
Head Start, Early Head Start, literacy Programs, dropout prevention, after school enrichment and tutoring, summer youth employment programs, College Counseling and Placement
- Supporting the working poor
Child Care, GED preparation, job training and on-the-job support, rental subsidies, job search assistance, job placement, job creation, small business development, loan funds, Senior Community Service Employment, Displaced Homemaker Program, budget counseling, public internet access.
- Supporting the poor facing crisis
Homeless and homeless prevention programs, emergency food pantries, energy crisis assistance, emergency clothing, supplies, and services
- Sustaining and honoring the elderly
In home care services, senior nutrition centers, home delivered meals, medical transportation, telephone reassurance, circuit breaker and Medicare prescription information
- Strengthening the whole family
Comprehensive Family Development, nutrition education, parenting education, assistance completing food stamp and Medicaid applications, weatherization assistance, energy assistance, rental assistance and home ownership programs
- Strengthening the whole community
Economic development and support for new business ventures, increase value of local housing stock through housing rehabilitation and weatherization, support for groups working on neighborhood improvements, support for dialogue and planning among all sectors of the community
Community Action Facts and Figures
The Community Action Network is one of the largest users of volunteer services in the country. In FY 98 (nationwide), volunteers contributed more than 27 million hours of service, equivalent to more than 13,000 full time employees.
The Community Action Network has very low administrative overhead costs (on average, between 7 and 12 percent). Resources are invested directly in the community and families, not in bureaucracy.
Community Action provides services to more than a quarter of all Americans living in poverty and to several million more families with incomes only slightly higher than the poverty threshold every year. 2.8 million low-income children are among those served.