By Jeannie Chaffin, Director, Office of Community Services
Many of you may have heard me joke that I was a baby left on the door step of Community Action. It was actually at the age of 20 that I started my career at the Ozarks Area Community Action Corporation (OACAC) as an intake specialist under the Job Training Partnership Act summer worker program. I enjoyed the position so much that I begged my then-supervisor to keep me on if at all possible. Fortunately, he did.
As I look back, I recognize that a main reason I wanted to stay on was because of the legacy and spirit of Community Action, as articulated today through what the Network calls the ‘Promise of Community Action:’ “Community Action changes people’s lives, embodies the spirit of hope, improves communities, and makes America a better place to live. We care about the entire community, and we are dedicated to helping people help themselves and each other.”
My former boss and Executive Director of OACAC for the past 40 years, Carl Rosenkranz, also was drawn to that Promise. Starting out at the agency in 1970 as a Volunteer in Service to America, or VISTA, Carl never looked back on his decision to leave all that was familiar on the East Coast. VISTA had only been in existence for a few years, and Carl participated in a six-week intensive training class based in Denver, the first half of which consisted of conference room discussions about poverty in America and related topics. The training also allowed for the opportunity to live with a Native American family on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. Throughout Carl’s career at OACAC in adult basic education, neighborhood services, and ultimately as the Executive Director, he never forgot one basic tenet of his VISTA training: to listen to the people in the community.
These are just two stories from one Community Action Agency in Southwest Missouri. Thousands of others across the country have dedicated themselves to the cause and have strived to make this country a better place for millions of Americans. This week, Community Action professionals will be in Washington, D.C. not only to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Economic Opportunity Act, but also to consider new strategies for helping customers move up the economic ladder. Workshops will include topics such as ending health disparities, serving veterans, and how to build collective energy and mobilize staff to effect change.
Just last year, the Community Action Network touched the lives of nearly 16 million individuals. And the federal funding stream that started out in 1964 as the Community Action Program, and which became the Community Services Block Grant in 1981, is what unites all of those lives. Though this funding source can be a small share of a local agency’s budget, it is always 100 percent of an agency’s identity – as outlined in the Promise of Community Action.
Here is a special message from Office of Community Services Director Jeannie Chaffin on the 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Economic Opportunity Act.