To the Journal editor:
The 50th anniversary of the war on poverty is a time for reflection on the vision and values of President Johnson when he created the Office of Economic Opportunity in 1964. The war on poverty was more than a policy initiative. It was the expression of a fundamental American value-economic opportunity for all. Each of us relies on that value every day to make a living and to support our families. A keystone program of the OEO is community action, also known as community action agencies.
The goal of community action is to encourage the "maximum feasible participation" in local decisions. The empowerment of citizens with the tools and a seat at the table to play an active role in the design and administration of programs and services for their communities was and remains a key activity of community action agencies.
This philosophy promotes leadership, capacity building and flexible local control of resources. Americans resonate with the idea of local control and the chance to share opinions to influence decisions and outcomes. The human infrastructure that we know as our community action agencies is a key engine of progress that is improving our communities.
Community Action Agencies made amazing strides to ensure that federal programs are, in the words of President Lincoln, of the people, by the people and for the people. People of modest means, women, people with disabilities, and older adults are now integral to decision making and occupy positions of leadership and influence. With the help of community action, their roles will grow.
Community action agencies respond to community needs and maximize public and private resources. Each community action agency reflects the priorities of their community and plays a leading role in economic development, job training, housing, services to veterans and older adults, early childhood education/HeadStart, the prevention of homelessness, and in ensuring food for the hungry.
Community action agencies provide critical help for emergency needs like utility assistance and provide long term assistance like financial literacy training, budgeting and access to educational services. They also help low and moderate income families with programs like tax preparation, home ownership classes, and opportunities to make homes more efficient through weatherization and energy conservation.
Community Action Agencies provide ideas, information, and education. They motivate self-help, coordinate volunteerism and connect people to their communities. Take time to get to know the Alger Marquette Community Action Board this year!
Kate Birnbryer White