This month marks the 55th anniversary of the Community Action Commission (CAC) of Fayette County and its outreach within the community.
CAC, located at 1400 U.S. Route 22 N.W. in Washington Court House, provides numerous programs to assist families, children and individuals.
According to the CAC website, www.cacfayettecounty.org, “the mission of the Community Action Commission of Fayette County is to combat causes of poverty, expand community services, and implement projects necessary to provide services and further community improvements. Its mission is also to consider the problems concerning youth, adults and senior citizens and deal with the prevention and solving of those problems.
“The development and management of affordable housing for special populations like individuals in recovery from substance abuse or mental illness, victims of domestic violence, the homeless and/or disabled, and low to moderate income individuals, families, and seniors is a specific purpose of the agency, as is the development of income-generating projects consistent with the purposes of the corporation which will increase funds available for services and reduce the agency’s dependence on public funds.”
According to current CAC Executive Director Bambi Baughn, the local Community Action was incorporated on May 25, 1965 but began operations as a 501(C) in 1967. It was directed by Jack Hagerty at that time. Hagerty remained the director until his passing in 2009.
Other original board members, according to minutes from a meeting held in October of 1966, included John Hardin, Nobel Rompel, Ott Riegel, Lawrence Dumford, and George Montgomery.
There is a rich history on how Community Action agencies/programs were created and progressed.
Historical information shared with the Record-Herald from Baughn explains initiatives to better communities through programs began in the early 1960’s during John F. Kennedy’s presidency.
Following Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, President Lyndon Johnson expanded the policy ideas initiated during the Kennedy administration.
In his State of the Union message to Congress in January of 1964, Johnson said, “Let us carry forward the plans and programs of John F. Kennedy, not because they are right… This administration today, here and now, declares an unconditional War on Poverty on America… Our joint federal-local effort must pursue poverty, pursue it wherever it exists.”
The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, which the historical information from Baughn explains, it “sought to eliminate discrimination in employment, public accommodations, transportation and other areas of life.”
To assist with this elimination from an economic standpoint, the Economic Opportunity Act was also created in 1964. Soon after, Community Action Agencies (CAA) were started and varied greatly. Some were formed entirely of poor people, some were formed by mayors, some were formed by neighbors meeting in church basements, etc.
In Fayette County, what would become one of the larger local programs was created in 1965 — Head Start.
The CAC website explains, “Head Start began as a Summer Program in 1965. Its main focus was on the social development of children.”
Today, “Fayette County Head Start is a free preschool program for children between the ages of 3 and 5. Head Start offers morning and afternoon sessions. Head Start provides breakfast, lunch, and a snack. Children receive developmental, speech, vision, and hearing screenings onsite. We serve all eligible children, including children with disabilities. We provide transportation to both site locations (Washington Court House and Jeffersonville),” according to the CAC website.
“They didn’t have a center like we have now. It was just done in the summer like in basements in the churches around town,” said Baughn. “I was hired as the first Head Start director in 1978. We were with the old school, down in the basement there, and we fed the kids in the cafeteria.”
Not only were CAAs involved in starting local programs like Head Start, they had been largely involved in shifts to make assistance more available to a larger amount of the population through direct action, community organization and legal action — and even “challenged the structure of segregation head on — and won on virtually every front,” according to the information from Baughn.
As the power of CAAs grew, concerned politicians got involved, altering how the entities were organized.
CAA boards were then required to be a three part board: one-third private, one-third public, and one-third participant sector. Boards are also required to have one formerly homeless individual and a victim of domestic violence.
Due to the Head Start program, Baughn explained the Fayette County CAC must have an early childhood expert, an attorney, a parent of a current Head Start student, and a financial expert on the board as well.
Further changes occurred throughout history for CAC as Baughn explained, that while she has worked for CAC since 1978, it doesn’t feel like working for one organization as the organization changes with the needs of the county. Programs have altered, expanded, been created and stopped throughout the years.
For example, in the 1980’s, CAC got involved in energy conservation. It also had a recycling center at one point. CAC also assists with providing housing, including building or buying, depending on what is most economical at the time, and has gotten involved with projects such as the Washington School Apartments and the Lofts at Court and Main.
While Head Start began as a small summer program, the CAC website explains, “in 1970 parents began having rights and responsibilities associated with their children being enrolled in Head Start. In 1990 Head Start served 60,000 children.”
“Head Start has been our most consistent program. We’ve had that from the very beginning. It has evolved tremendously,” said Baughn. “They have a lot of standards they have to meet now, a lot of money compared to some of the other programs. We went from… I think I had 72 kids when I was Head Start director, and (now) we have (approximately) 148 in Head Start, 75 in Early Head Start, and another 60 in the Early Head Start childcare partnership — that’s a three-county program we administer.”
Although Baughn began as the director of Head Start, she switched to being a planner a couple years later.
“(As the planner) you did research, you wrote reports, you did proposals, you tried things out, you did reports on how those things went,” said Baughn. Essentially, the planner helped to create new programs.
Baughn became director of CAC in 2009 after Hagerty’s passing, making her the second director CAC has had in its 55 years.
Programs are expansive and include several layers of management. Not only are programs in place for behavioral health, social services, transportation, families and children, etc., but CAC also helps the community in other ways.
“We work with the city and the county. We run the television station for the city. We run the transit system for the county. We run the Land Bank for the county and city together,” said Baughn. “There’s issues in other counties where I know the CAP (Community Action Programs) agencies can’t get along with their county commissioners. They’re in competition with their city. It depends — somebody said once to me, ‘you’ve seen one community action agency, you’ve seen one community action agency.’ There is very little similarity other than their mission.”
Follow the Record Herald for future articles on the various programs CAC offers.
Reach journalist Jennifer Woods at 740-313-0355.