May is National Community Action Month, serving to highlight the role Community Action Agencies play in helping low-income families move out of poverty and achieve economic security.
What does “Community Action” really mean and what is it they do when they are in action? When I think of “Communities in Action,” I think of a population made up of individuals, families, and groups who are “movers and shakers” who encourage friends, neighbors, and all segments comprising a community (business, faith-based, education, governmental, etc.) to work together to make their communities healthy.
Community Action Agencies help low-income families move out of poverty and achieve economic security through a variety of programs such as Head Start, Weatherization, Job Training and Placement, Financial Education, Small Business Development, Housing, Energy Assistance, and Transportation. In fact, the promise of Community Action states, “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.”
President Obama, in his recent State of the Union address, made the point that, in order for our society to bring struggling families into the middle class, good jobs need to be created, the next generation of workers need to be trained, children need to be invested in, and families need to be strengthened. All these tasks are being tackled by local Community Action Agencies every day of every month of every year.
Indianhead Community Action Agency, Inc. (ICAA), which serves six counties in north central and northwest Wisconsin, strongly believes in helping individuals, families, and communities achieve self-sufficiency by extending a hand to help them out of poverty. This isn’t easy; resources during these economically challenged times have spiraled downwards, creating decreased funding for programs to help our most vulnerable populations. And this decrease in funding is affecting almost the entire menu of programs Community Action Agencies provide.
Programs that help families out of poverty are important not just for the direct assistance they provide. There is a very substantial impact of these programs on the social and economic determinants of health. Clinical interventions only contribute to 20% of health, while 40% of health comes from safe housing, equitable wages, education, healthy nutrition, safe communities, family and social support (County Health Rankings, 2013). Our families and communities need to have a fair and equitable chance to become more self–sufficient and to be productive citizens; resources and policies to support social and economic determinants of health are necessary to develop healthy, productive, self-sufficient individuals, families, communities and strong businesses.
Indianhead Community Action Agency, Inc. is determined to look for innovative ways to assist individuals and families who are in need. In addition to the above mentioned programs, ICAA also provides home health services to our aging population as they cope with illnesses, designs programs for youth to address teen-related issues, makes available food and nutrition resources, provides literacy services, offers small business and social enterprise programs, and supports legal assistance for domestic violence programs.
The Legal Assistance for Victims Program has been an extremely successful program, having grown from serving 8 counties in 2010 to now serving 15 counties. This program was made possible through funding obtained from the United States Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women. In the initial planning grant, two attorneys were hired to provide free legal assistance to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking. They served more than 200 women during the first two years. A continuation grant provided additional funding to extend these services to victims in additional counties through collaborations with domestic violence shelters. While this program has been instrumental in improving the lives of the victims we serve, there continues to be a significant need (more than what our funds support). Additional funding is always being sought to continue to provide these services to all of ICAA’s counties.
The Legal Assistance for Victims Program is just one example of the many innovative programs Community Action Agencies provide. There are many more phenomenal stories from Community Action Agencies that are assisting individuals, families and communities during these difficult times.
It is time for our communities to collectively address the various inequalities that exist which keep families in poverty and which also, too often, support ‘victim blaming.’ It is also time for our communities to “… stop thinking of health as something we get at the doctor’s office, but instead as something that starts in our families, in our schools and workplaces, in our playgrounds and parks, and in the air we breathe and the water we drink.” (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2010, p. 6) “Communities in Action” are willing to extend a helping hand to address issues related to poverty. “Communities in Action” are willing to find creative, innovative solutions by working collaboratively with community members to help individuals and families achieve self-sufficiency. “Communities in Action” support the individual, the family, and the community by providing the resources, education and services necessary to develop healthy families, sustainable communities and strong local businesses.
Please feel free to contact me with your thoughts.
Pamela L. Guthman, BSN, RN, BC
Chief Executive Officer
Indianhead Community Action Agency, Inc.
Community Action Partnership (2013). Available at: http://www.communityactionpartnership.com/
County Health Rankings and Roadmaps. (2013). What works for health. Available at:
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (2010). Available at: