Access Agency's Mobile Food Pantry brings food into hard-to-reach and underserved neighborhoods for easier access to its residents. CAFCA

“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.”

This is the Promise of Community Action. This pledge is posted at community action agencies (CAAs) across the country (over 1,000 in number!) and recited at convenings, trainings, and more. Why? To keep fresh in our minds the holistic goals of our agencies and our networks — to remember that helping each person improves the whole community.

Deb Polun

This month, we celebrate and honor the work of community action agencies here in Connecticut and across the country. Created almost 60 years ago, community action agencies serve over 15 million people across the country with immediately needed services such as childcare, food, and energy — and also long-term solutions like job training, financial education, and housing assistance. Here in Connecticut, our nine community action agencies serve about 185,000 people each year.

A few things make community action agencies unique:

Local control. As individual non-profit organizations, they are locally-controlled and governed by boards with representation from the private sector, public officials, and the low-income community. They assess their communities’ needs and tailor their programs/services to meet those needs. They recognize that what’s needed in Bridgewater may not be the same as what’s needed in Bridgeport.

One-stop shopping. There are a lot of organizations who provide one service to people in need. Community action agencies recognize that people’s needs are usually multi-faceted: if you don’t have enough money to buy food, you probably are struggling with housing, energy costs, and more. Community action agencies provide lots of different types of assistance all in the same place, with staff who speak the language, and reflect the culture, of their communities.

Flexibility. All of Connecticut’s community action agencies provide help with energy, SNAP applications, case management, and assistance with health-related social needs. And — beyond those core services, they provide other programs and services, based on need. For example, some offer a diaper bank, mobile food delivery, on-site farmers’ markets, or programs to help dads connect with their children. Job training opportunities are plentiful and vary across CAAs — from computer skills training to training as a child care provider, and even to training as a hydroponic lettuce farmer!

Community action agencies were created in the 1960s to be a catalyst for change. Today, the community action network continues to create opportunities for all, working to ensure success and high-quality lives across neighborhoods, across cities and towns, across Connecticut.

As we approach the last weeks of the Connecticut legislative session, we ask our policymakers to make the choices that can help us meet the promise.

Here are just a few:

  • Tax relief for low-income residents, including an enhanced Earned Income Tax Credit and a permanent Child Tax Credit for our state.
  • Increased assistance for child care, to help providers like CAAs keep classrooms open – allowing families to go to work, and preparing kids for success in school and life.
  • A continued commitment to workforce development and job training for people with varied interests and skill levels to thrive and reach their highest potential.
  • Enhanced funding for Meals on Wheels, to help people age in place in their communities and receive nutritious meals (and a friendly smile!) delivered to their doors.
  • More housing that is affordable to people of all ages and incomes. We also need enhanced funding for rental assistance.
  • Continuation of the Client Support Fund, which provides CAAs with the opportunity to help their customers meet individualized needs, like car repairs to help them get to/from work.

All of these policies can help us change people’s lives, improve our communities, and make Connecticut, and America, a better place to live. Let’s work together to meet the Promise of Community Action.

Deb Polun is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Association for Community Action (CAFCA), the state association for Connecticut’s nine Community Action Agencies, the state and federally designated antipoverty agencies covering all 169 cities and towns.