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Letter to the Editor: We Can All Take Pride in Success of Community Action Commission

Does what you do really just enable people? With more than 17 years of leading Community Action programs and services, I’ve heard the question a lot from community members who don’t understand the purpose of the Community Action movement.

Virtually every county in the United States has a Community Action agency with the sweeping mission of fighting poverty in the community it serves. We are part of a nationwide network that helps ensure a safety net for low-income individuals and families, but even more importantly, creates opportunities for people to move from poverty to economic self-sufficiency. We address local causes and conditions of poverty with input from the entire community, including the low-income populations they serve.

It’s true, there are many organizations in Santa Barbara County addressing poverty. Here’s what makes the Community Action Commission, or CAC as we’re commonly called, unique and different.

By mandate, we design programs and implement anti-poverty strategies based on a comprehensive annual Community Needs Assessment developed with a broad range of input from those we serve and the community at large. The Community Action Commission further operates through partnerships with numerous public- and private-sector organizations and individuals, so that local communities benefit from a broad but coordinated range of resources and initiatives. We don’t operate in our own silo but with an eye to reducing duplication and creating synergy through collaboration.

Our board of directors also must include equal representation from the low-income community, local elected officials and an array of public and private community stakeholders, including local businesses and others with the capacity to create jobs and opportunities for low-income individuals. This creates a very comprehensive group to create opportunities unique to our local area.

Yes, we do receive government funding, but only a portion of what it takes to operate the mandated programs. By dictate, we must raise 25 cents of every dollar the program costs. The Community Service Block Grant creates a modest element of financial support, while securing the unfunded portion creates a local buy-in that drives community participation in the process of creating a path out of poverty. The CSBG provides Santa Barbara County with flexible funds to support gap-filling activities that address unmet needs, innovative initiatives to combat poverty and promote self-sufficiency, and rapid responses to urgent community needs.

With each turnover of presidential administrations, there always seems to be a challenge to this important funding stream that gives communities the framework for solutions addressing root causes of poverty. President Obama originally recommended a 50 percent cut to CSBG funding. The Trump administration indicates it doesn’t know what we do and recommends the elimination of CSBG funds.

As the Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County celebrates 50 years of service, we can tell of Jennifer*, who was a Head Start child and now leads a Head Start center, or of George*, who counts on hot meals delivered to his home each day so he doesn’t have to choose whether to eat a nutritious meal or buy needed medicine. There’s also Alisa*, who came through our Las Comadres teen mentoring program, was encouraged to stay in school and recently completed her master’s degree in social work.

To those who partner with us, and to the community at large, we say “thank you!” for helping the Community Action Commission create opportunities that empower families to achieve stability. Our success is really your success.

*Names have been changed to preserve the confidentiality of those we serve.

Fran Forman, executive director
Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County

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