The history of Community Action is bound up in the humanitarian principles that form a bedrock value of the American experience, that we all have responsibility for helping people to overcome barriers to sharing in the benefits of living in a free and equal society. In 1964, the U.S. Congress passed the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) as a companion to the Civil Rights Act, which guaranteed equal opportunity for all. And so began a set of federal initiatives known as the “War on Poverty.” The EOA provided a direct infusion of federal funds to local communities and called for “maximum feasible participation” of people with lower incomes in the process of identifying problems and developing strategies for achieving economic stability and prosperity. To carry out this endeavor at the local level, more than 1,000 community-based organizations, called Community Action Agencies (CAAs) were created. These CAAs were charged with coordinating federal funds and other resources and engaging citizens in the labor of “opening to everyone, the opportunity for education and training, the opportunity to work, and the opportunity to live in decency and dignity” (EOA, 1964).
In 1965, Franklin Community Action Corporation was established as the federally-designated agency to put economic justice into action in Franklin County, Massachusetts. As the needs of the region changed and new funding opportunities became available, the agency grew tremendously. In 2005 we were also designated as the Community Action Agency for Hampshire County, directly to the south of Franklin County, and changed our legal name to Community Action of the Franklin, Hampshire, and North Quabbin Regions (“Community Action”).
The roots of Community Action’s work are in intervention to alleviate the most immediate, destabilizing effects of poverty in the lives of individuals and families, as well as in the larger community. Over the years we have come to interpret our mission broadly to include, not only people who have lower incomes, but others who are marginalized, such as youth, immigrants, and members of minority groups. Our desire to secure our community’s future health and prosperity, and our sense of ethical practice, compelled us to offer primary prevention services in order to get out ahead of the need for intervention. While many of our programs are targeted to intervene with specific issues or populations, many also incorporate prevention practices and are open to all.
Community Action is an “umbrella” agency that provides the overall leadership, policy guidance, coordination, and support necessary to successfully offer a wide array of essential services and actively contribute to local initiatives that are critical to building our community’s capacity for positive change. Currently, the agency has an annual budget of $30 million and a staff of about 300 dedicated employees who serve over 30,000 of our neighbors each year through 40 programs.
All Community Action Agencies are overseen by a state agency designated by the Office of Community Services of the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In Massachusetts, this state agency is the Department of Housing and Community Development. Every three years, all Community Action Agencies must conduct a thorough needs assessment of their service area and craft a Community Action Plan that responds to local needs. Community Action is certified by the Massachusetts Office of Supplier Diversity as a woman-owned nonprofit organization.