ACCESS & TVCCA Partner to Commemorate Community Action Month

CAFCA | May 07, 2014 |

Programs that have become household names and vital lifelines for low-income families and elderly residents got their start in the summer of 1964, when President Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act that led to the creation of community action agencies.

Eastern Connecticut's two such agencies, the Thames Valley Council for Community Action and the Access Agency, celebrated their 50th anniversary Friday with a room full of clients, staff, local dignitaries and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.

Courtney read portions of Johnson's speech to Congress in March, when he stated the Economic Opportunities Act would "give every American community the opportunity to develop a comprehensive plan to fight its own poverty and help them to carry out those plans."

Courtney found the local empowerment to address poverty a key component of the act, and the element that made it so successful. He said private nonprofit agencies, such as TVCCA and Access, are not government-heavy and bureaucratic. They identify aspects of poverty and address them.

For Desiree Desilus of Norwich, that aspect was the recent winter's bitter cold. Desilus, mother of two young children ages 5 and 9. Desilus applied for assistance under the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, commonly called LIHEAP. Her family also receives help under the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program, and her youngest son is about to complete Head Start - all TVCCA-administered programs generated in the 1964 act.

"I don't know what I would have done without it," Desilus said of the heating assistance.

She wasn't alone. TVCCA Executive Director Deborah Monahan said during this year's difficult winter, Access and TVCCA together helped 16,768 low-income households in eastern Connecticut cover the cost of heating. TVCCA covers New London County, while Access serves towns in Windham and Tolland counties.

TVCCA also oversees Meals on Wheels and operates a family homeless shelter at the former Uncas on Thames campus, where the agency's main office is located.

Both agencies were founded in March 1965 as a direct result of the Economic Opportunity Act, signed by Johnson on Aug. 20, 1964.

Monahan said Friday's press conference served as the kick-off for a planned year-long 50th anniversary celebration for the usually low-key agencies.

"You get up every single day and you give it your best shot," Monahan said. "You help one family at a time."