Community Action has a long and venerable history.
The Oxford American Dictionary lists, as the third defintion community, 'a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals : the sense of community that organized religion can provide.
• [in sing. ] a similarity or identity : writers who shared a community of interests.
• joint ownership or liability : a commitment to the community of goods.
The network of Community Action Agencies is made up of more than 1,100 local, private,non-profit and public agencies that work to alleviate poverty and empower low-income families in communities throughout the United States. Most of these agencies are Community Action Agencies (CAAs) created through the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. CAAs provide services to more than 15 million low-income people annually in 99 percent of the nation's counties. Approximately 22 percent of all Americans living in poverty and several million more families with incomes only slightly above the poverty line were served by CAAs in 2004. Among them are 4 million children.
Every Community Service Block Grant (CSBG) dollar leverages almost $5 of state, local and private contributions. A total of $9.7 billion is administered by the CAA network to provide support, services and improvements in low-income communities.*
There is no "typical" CAA. No two CAAs are exactly alike because each is governed by the leadership and specific needs of its local community. But despite this fact, there is a typical CAA approach to fighting the causes of poverty. Local agencies approach these goals by offering a variety of programs that serve low-income children, families, and seniors. They coordinate emergency assistance, provide weatherization services, sponsor youth programs, operate senior centers and provide transportation in rural areas. CAAs provide linkages to job training opportunities, GED preparation courses, and vocational education programs. They provide a range of services addressing poverty-related problems-- from income management and credit counseling to entrepreneurial development and small business incubators; from domestic violence crisis assistance to family development programs and parenting classes; from food pantries and emergency shelters to low-income housing development and community revitalization projects.
The common goal, enabling people eventually to become independent of any public or charitable assistance, engenders common CAA operating methods. The requirements of the CSBG, the expertise of state and local managers shared over a generation of training and peer exchange, and above all the observation of the outcomes of various interventions have led to similar program designs across the nation. In general, CAAs prioritize prevention initiatives and provide extended involvement with clients to support the length of time and variety of assistance required to increase permanently their opportunity to be economically self-sufficient. When agencies provide crisis services or when they distribute food or goods, they seek to make those contacts with their clients an introduction to opportunities for moving the clients away from dependency on stop-gap aid. The eight goals outlined in the CSBG statute address different causes of poverty, and, since each family is likely to be affected by more than one of these, the purposes of the CSBG in part determine the type of coordinating role that CAAs play. The statutory goals are:
National Association for State Community Services Programs, Community Servcies Block Grant Statistical Report: FY 2004 (View the report on NASCSP's website.)
National Community Action Foundation, About Community Action