On March 25th of this year, Community Action Council for Lexington-Fayette, Bourbon, Harrison and Nicholas Counties, Inc.—known in the community simply as Community Action Council—celebrated its 55th year of service. In any other year the agency’s staff may have commemorated this milestone with a big celebration, but this year, amid the threat of COVID-19, Community Action Council’s staff silently marked the passing of their anniversary by honoring their mission: preventing, reducing, and eliminating poverty among individuals, families, and communities through direct services and advocacy. Instead of a large crowd of well-wishers, Community Action Council’s staff returned to their roots, working safely in small groups in 15 counties to make a difference.
Community Action Council is one of 23 community action agencies in Kentucky formed shortly after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. When Community Action Council first opened its doors the very first program it offered was Project Head Start. Now simply known as Head Start, the program has evolved into a federally-funded group of programs for families with low income with children birth to age five that provide comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and family engagement services. Today Community Action Council educates more than 2,000 children in over 18 counties across the state, including its statewide operations of the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program. Head Start is just one of 40 programs Community Action Council offers to help individuals and families achieve economic security and thrive.
As the designated community action agency for four counties of Lexington-Fayette, Bourbon, Harrison and Nicholas, the agency is well-versed in assessing the needs of families and communities and adapting to new challenges—and the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic were no exception. In mid-March, the agency quickly pivoted from its ongoing, in-person support to using telecommunication to provide urgent resources to all families, especially those suffering an immediate financial loss or reduction in employment. With funding from the Coronavirus Response Fund, a partnership between the Blue Grass Community Foundation, the United Way of the Bluegrass and the city of Lexington, the Council’s staff began distributing personal and baby care items to thousands of families—much needed items for families hit hardest by the impact of COVID-19.
Agency staff also worked quickly to expand its partnership with God’s Pantry Food Bank, rapidly transitioning from a weekly support of 100 households accessing food to as many as 575 households. Staff also began working with FoodChain, a local nonprofit who generously provided prepared hot meals to be delivered to seniors and others at greater risk of exposure.
Community Action Council has eight neighborhood centers—four in Lexington and one each in Bourbon, Harrison and Nicholas counties—that are accessible to anyone to meet a variety of needs from emergency support, such as food access or utility assistance, to resources that to help increase educational attainment, locate housing, improve employment opportunities, support youth transitioning out of foster care, and many others.
Community Action Council is well-positioned to help people recover from the global pandemic. As a recipient of just over $950,000 in Community Services Block Grant funding through the CARES ACT, Community Action Council will soon begin enhanced services to help with house stabilization, food access, employment, small business creations, job skills, and certification programs. Executive Director Sharon Price explains, “We know that in order for a community to be stable, the family has to be stabilized. We want to make sure that we have our system in place to try and help all of these families move forward.”
In addition to these new services, more change is in store for Community Action Council. Beginning in August, the agency will be expanding its Head Start program by adding a new location off Arbor Drive in Lexington. Families with children between the ages of 6 weeks and 5 years old can apply online at commaction.org or by calling 859-233-4600. The agency will also be adding a new center in Richmond, where construction is already underway.
Price believes the value Community Action Council has in its communities is made stronger through partnership. As an example, Community Action Council has a long-standing collaboration with the Urban League of Lexington-Fayette (Urban League). Nearly 10 years ago, Community Action Council worked with Urban League to revitalize the vacant Russell Elementary School. Now called Russell School Community Services Center, today the building is jointly operated by the two agencies and is home to an early childhood development center, apartments for seniors, and robust neighborhood services.
The chief values of the anti-poverty movement have always been to serve the best interests of people with low income and to improve the quality of life throughout communities by promoting economic development and expanding opportunity. If you are interested in learning more about Community Action Council or donating to help advance their services, visit their website, commaction.org, or find them on social media at “Community Action Council.” Whether you need help or want to be a part of the solution, the Promise of Community Action is one that we all need to get behind: “Community Action Council changes people’s lives, embodies the spirit of hope, improves communities, and makes America a better place to live…” •