The Wisconsin Community Action Program Association (WISCAP) held its annual meeting and 40th anniversary commemoration on May 8th and 9th at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in Madison.
WISCAP was incorporated in 1974 as a private, not-for-profit association to serve the training and public advocacy needs of Wisconsin’s Community Action network. In addition to the 40th anniversary of WISCAP’s incorporation, 2014 also represents the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaiming a ‘war on poverty’ across the nation. The creation and formation of Community Action Agencies were core components of that ‘war on poverty’.
Over one-hundred Community Action workers and friends attended to honor their history, examine the current state of poverty in Wisconsin, and recommit to fighting poverty in the future. The event began with greetings and words of support from Eloise Anderson, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. Secretary Anderson also presented the 2014 Governor’s Award for Excellence in Community Action to Indianhead Community Action Agency, headquartered in Ladysmith, for their operation of a business development program which provides support to rural low-income entrepreneurs (see companion story).
A panel of distinguished experts discussed the current status of poverty in Wisconsin during the annual meeting’s lunch plenary session. Tim Smeeding, Director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at UW-Madison; Laura Dresser, Association Director of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS); Tom Hefty, retired CEO of Blue Cross / Blue Shield of Wisconsin; and Don Mathis, CEO and President of the National Community Action Partnership exchanged lively opinions on the various issues most directly impacting on poverty and the changes in the make-up of Wisconsin’s low-income population as these circumstances have changed. The panel was moderated by Steve Walters, Senior Producer for WisconsinEye and former distinguished journalist with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
During the afternoon, six different poverty seminars were held, discussing in-depth specific poverty issues: housing, energy, food security, wage equality, public advocacy and the intersection between racism and poverty. Over twenty experts on these various issues made presentations and discussed the issues with conference attendees, including: Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II; Nino Amato, Executive Director of the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups; Rep. Fred Kessler; Rep. Evan Goyke; Judi Bartfield and Amber Canto from the UW-Extension; Kevin Vesperman and Jane Blank from the Division of Energy Services; Matt Bromely, Executive Director of Customers First!; Tyler Huebner, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin; Dave Anderson and Anna Haley-Lock from the Department of Workforce Development.
David Bradley, Executive Director of the National Community Action Foundation (headquartered in Washington D.C.) and Community Action’s chief lobbyist in Congress and with the Obama Administration, gave 90+ banquet attendees on the evening of May 8th a first-hand overview of the outlook for continued federal funding for anti-poverty programs and of the dysfunctional nature of national politics in 2014.
Friday, May 9th was given over to commemorating the rich history of Community Action. A panel of former CAA directors and state administrators regaled the conference with stories related to the very beginnings of Community Action in Wisconsin in the mid-1960s and of Community Action’s achievements and setbacks in the 10-15 years after.
The conference closed out with an appreciation of ’40 Friends for 40 Years’; individuals in Community Action, state government, politics and the community who have been lifelong friends and allies of the work of WISCAP and its member agencies. Special guest former representative Dave Obey received a special appreciation for all the work and passion he brought to the cause of social justice and of Community Action.
A listing of the ’40 Friends for 40 Years’, along with pictures of the WISCAP Annual Meeting and 40th Anniversary Commemoration, will soon be posted.