What Do Community Action Agencies Do?

Community Action Agencies are local public or private non-profit organizations that attempt to combat poverty in communities. CAAs empower communities by helping individuals and families gain the skills and opportunities to achieve self-sufficiency.

CAAs were created in 1964 as part of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Economic Opportunities Act. While most non-profit organizations focus on providing specific services, such as housing or job training, CAAs adopt a broader approach, attempting to affect widespread change in communities by providing a variety of services. The main goal of a CAA is to promote economic self-sufficiency among community members, and the organizations depend heavily on input and volunteering from low-income community members. Typical CAA services include providing utility payment assistance, offering job training, organizing food assistance programs, combating domestic violence and coordinating community initiatives.

CAAs exercise a tripartite board structure, consisting of an equal mix of community members, public officials and business leaders. Community members are encouraged to participate in CAAs and gain the skills necessary to affect their communities positively. A CAA strives to involve community members in all aspects of the organization, including planning, administration and evaluation of effectiveness. CAAs help more than 16 million individuals each year, and the average individual organization serves approximately 300,000 people. Around 54 percent of CAAs serve exclusively rural areas.