"We must open the doors of opportunity. But we must also equip our people to walk through those doors."
Lyndon B. Johnson
In 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the "War on Poverty." The Economic Opportunity Act legislation was passed and the Office of Economic Opportunity was created within the federal government. By November of that year Community Action's were springing up all across America. Originally created as the Ashtabula County Community Action Committee by resolution of the County Commissioners in 1965, we were one of those entities.
During the 1970's, there were federal movements to target the Office of Economic Opportunity for extinction. These efforts failed and in 1972 the County Commissioners abolished the Committee and created the Ashtabula County Community Action Agency (ACCAA) as a separate public agency. ACCAA was "set apart" from County government and a new governing board was established to meet Federal regulations. ACCAA applied for and received 501 (c)(3) tax exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service on February 26, 1974.
By 1975, the Agency had a budget of about $800,000 from various sources. Expansion began and the major programs at the time included: supportive services and transportation for the elderly, family planning, distribution of formula and vitamins for infants, Head Start, emergency assistance and general outreach. Health care assistance for the Spanish community and a screening program for sickle cell were developed. 1976 saw the beginning of the Weatherization and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Programs. Expansion continued through the end of the decade with the addition of new programs, more property and staff, and development of management and administrative systems. The Senior Aides and Summer Youth Recreation Programs were established. Service areas were defined and additional offices were opened to coordinate services.
The 1980’s presented more challenges. Inflation became a major issue and prompted cuts to social programs. To save the program, the Community Service Block Grant was developed in 1981 to move the authority and administration from the federal to the state level. Area offices were closed. Senior Aides and Summer Youth Programs were transferred to another agency. Community Services Block Grant monies were cut by 20%. There was a dramatic increase in the number of low-income residents in the County. Nevertheless, the Agency was able to maintain most of its current programs and add the Summer Food Service Program, commodities distribution, and the Child and Family Health Services.
The 1990’s saw a more stable political environment. During this time the Agency took advantage of the opportunity to restructure into four Program Divisions, while keeping its Administrative Division, which included the Agency’s fiscal operations. The four Program Divisions included: Child and Family Development Services, General Community Services, Health Services and Housing Services.
The turn of the century brought still more changes. The Summer Food Service Program was transferred to another agency, additional services for senior citizens began with the passage of a new Senior Services Levy, and the Information and Referral Services became certified as the designated 2-1-1 provider for Ashtabula County.
The economy underwent a major decline beginning in 2007 and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act poured millions into Weatherization and CSBG. Yet shortly thereafter talk of cuts in many of our core programs developed at the federal level. Specifically at risk again, was the funding exclusive to Community Action– the Community Services Block Grant. As it did twenty years ago, the loss of this funding threatened to jeopardize the whole existence of the Community Action Network. We assisted in the efforts to restore the appropriations by providing our state and federal associations with information about the impact of our programs within the community. Members of our Board and community partners visited our legislators to create awareness about how the cuts would harm the individuals in their districts. Through these efforts and those of Community Action programs nationwide, for now, our Network has been saved. We are watchful for changes in the upcoming budget process that again threaten our ability to help people to become more economically self-sufficient.
As we advocate for the needs of those we serve, we revisit the purpose of our organization. ACCAA has now adopted the motto of “Helping People. Changing Lives.” to more accurately reflect what we do. We not only help people, we change the lives of the people we serve. Moving forward we will be evaluating expansion of existing services and exploring new service areas where needs are not being met. We will also continue our commitment to collaboration and partnership to increase the overall impact to the community.
Over the years we have faced continuous struggles but we have perservered in our fight to end poverty. And so as we celebrate 55 years of service, the Agency will continue to advocate for equal opportunity for all.