In 1961, President John F. Kennedy's "New Frontier" included support for programs to prevent juvenile delinquency, and the focal point was the President's Council on Juvenile Delinquency, chaired by U.S Attorney General Robert Kennedy. In New York City, the President's Council funded Mobilization for Youth (MFY) with the Ford Foundation and the city of New York. MFY organized and cordinated neighborhood councils composed of local officials, service providers, and neighbors to develop plans to correct conditions that led to juvenile deliquency. It also enlisted the aid of school board and city council members to implement those plans.
It was called COMMUNITY ACTION, and it looked like an effective and inexpensive way to solve problems.
The War on Poverty was born. In February, Sargent Shriver was asked to head a task force to draft legislation. In August, the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 (EOA) was passed, creating a federal Office of Economic Opporunity (OEO) placed in the Executive Office of the President.
The federal OEO was to lead the efforts of the War on Poverty and coordinated related programs of all other federal agencies. Community Action Agencies (CAAs) were created at the local level to fight the War on poverty at home.
CAAs varied from grass-roots, community -controlled groups, to those with experienced board members and a highly visible professional staff. Most were incorporated as private nonprofit organizations. A few were city agencies.
One provision of the EOA called for the poor to have maximum feasible participation in identifying problems and in developing solutions. Across the nation, CAAs opened neighborhood centers in storefronts, housing projects, and other buildings in low-income areas to identify people who needed help and to determine eligibility.
On September 30 , 1981, the CSA was abolished and the Economic Opportunity Act was rescinded. However, the newly-created Community Services Block Grant ensured the continued funding of the eligble entities, the CAAs , migrant programs, and certain other organizations that had been financed through local initiative funds by CSA.
Currently, there are nearly 1,000 CAAs. And CAAs still provide a hand up, not a hand out. The philosophy of eliminating the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty remains the key concept that motivates CAAs today.