One of more than 1,000 Community Action Agencies across the United States.
Community Action Agencies (CAAs) are nonprofit private and public organizations established under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 to fight America's War on Poverty. CAAs help people to help themselves in achieving self sufficiency.
Today there are approximately 1,000 CAAs, serving the poor in every state as well as Puerto Rico and the Trust Territories. Each year, they help 17 million Americans with low incomes achieve economic security. Whether it's a Head Start program, weatherization, job training, housing, food bank, energy assistance, financial education, green jobs, or any of the other 40-plus distinct programs, CAAs work to make America a better place to live.
A little bit of history about Community Action Agencies:
The Great Society, as envisioned by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, was a sweeping plan to improve the lives of all Americans, regardless of their circumstances. Inspired by President John F. Kennedy and his New Frontier, Johnson pledged to fulfill the promise of equal opportunity for all by enacting several comprehensive changes within the federal government. The Economic Opportunity Act, signed into law by President Johnson in August 1964, created the nationwide Community Action Network.
The War on Poverty
Shortly before his assassination in 1963, President Kennedy asked his economic advisors for proposals to address the problem of American poverty. Johnson took up this charge when he succeeded Kennedy as president. Johnson's first State of the Union address, on June 8, 1964, called for an unconditional war to defeat poverty. He expanded and revised the proposals given to Kennedy and developed the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. The act included a variety of initiatives:
- Head Start
- Job Corps
- Work-Study program for university students
- Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) - a domestic version of the Peace Corps
- Neighborhood Youth Corps
- Basic education and adult job training
- Community Action Programs (CAPS) - These turned out to be the most controversial part of the package because it proposed the "maximum feasible participation" by poor people themselves in determining what would help them the most. CAPS were a radical departure from how government had run most social reform programs in the past.
The Economic Opportunity Act was innovative legislation, but it received only about $1 billion to divide among the various programs and remained critically underfunded. By 1966, Congress appropriated $4 billion for the programs.
The Start of Community Action
Community Action was a bold idea, especially for the federal government. It handed control to the local level, so that programs were geared specifically to target population needs. This concept, “maximum feasible participation,” represented a new paradigm in the government, and many sectors were wary of its innovative ideas. President Johnson selected Sargent Shriver, a member of President Kennedy’s inner circle, to head up the newly formed Office of Economic Opportunity.
The Community Action Method
- Prioritizes prevention
- Addresses the causes of poverty
- Involves the community and people with low incomes
- Improves the community
- Creates opportunity
Community Action Agencies' response to people with low incomes is:
- Directed to their long-term development
Community Action In Duluth
Community Action started in Duluth in 1965 as a public agency operated through the City of Duluth. During its first years of operation, the agency emphasized direct services to people with low incomes. Among the programs administered were Head Start, remedial reading, child development centers, and Neighborhood Youth Corps.
In 1982, Duluth Community Action Program (DCAP) incorporated as a nonprofit and became independent from the City of Duluth. DCAP relocated to the Duluth Armory on London Road and began providing services like energy assistance, weatherization, and food assistance.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, DCAP formed strong bonds with several community-based organizations and was instrumental in:
- The early development of affordable housing (with Center City Housing Corporation)
- Grassroots organizing around energy conservation and rate hikes (with the Senior Coalition)
- Neighborhood empowerment efforts (with West End Community Action and Broad-Based Organizing for a Newer Duluth-BOND)
Unfortunately, DCAP had its state and federal grant funds cut in the late 1990s, leading to staff layoffs in 1998 and the resignation of its board of directors in 1999. The Duluth office was closed, and energy assistance and weatherization services were transferred to Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency, based in Virginia, Minn.
However, it didn't take long for Community Action to make a comeback.
Community Action Duluth today
Building on its rich history of providing for the needs of people with low incomes in Duluth, DCAP was reborn as Community Action Duluth in 1999. The office was moved to its current location in Lincoln Park.
Community Action Duluth's new board of directors recognized that many services already existed in Duluth to address the effects of poverty, such as homelessness, hunger, and lack of clothing. The board wanted to tackle the problem in a different way, by helping individuals and families move out of poverty. This innovative approach led to programs that strengthen economic security through asset building, develop families by focusing on employment and relationship building across racial and class lines, and work to change public policy.
Today, Community Action Duluth's programs are designed to help people increase their income and assets, secure jobs, and develop social capital.
In 2010, we formed a subsidiary – Green Duluth LLC – that provides green jobs through urban agriculture, Watershed Conservation Corps, Energy Outreach Canvass, and an energy conservation partnership with Minnesota Power.