The City of Guthrie has proclaimed the month of May as ‘Community Action Month’ as a way to celebrate the work that the community action agencies, like Central Oklahoma Community Action Agency (COCAA), have been doing in helping, changing lives and building communities.
“COCAA exists to help people change their lives, build communities, and address the cause and condition of poverty. We do this by focusing on the individuals and their community, and by networking with local organizations to enhance the quality of lives,” Mike Pearson, Chair of COCAA said. “To receive this proclamation from the city is an honor and a tribute to our current and past staff, Board members and volunteers who have worked hard to make their communities better.”
This marks the 50th anniversary observance of Community Action. Community Action Agencies are locally controlled, non-profit organizations that work to improve the lives of low-income individuals by creating opportunities for increased self-sufficiency and greater participation in the community. In Oklahoma, Community Action Agencies serve all 77 counties.
Each year, community action agencies serve 20 million people in rural, suburban and urban communities across the country. In Oklahoma, 19 of these agencies mobilize more than 4,200 employees and over $208 million in federal, state and local funds to assist low-income families move toward self-sufficiency.
One of the strengths of community action is its local control and local decision-making. Each board has at least one-third of its memberships representing low-income residents, one-third local elected officials or their designees, and the remainder representing local business, civic organizations, faith-based group, and similar interests in the community. This unique board structure allows each local Community Action Agency to determine the most effective programs based on the needs of communities in its service area.
COCCAA, formerly Community Action Inc, started in Shawnee in March 1968 after the City Council voted to invite the program into the city. In 1998, as the agency continued to grow and serve more communities, the name was changed to more accurately reflect its status. Today, the agency serves six counties in central Oklahoma; Cleveland, Lincoln, Logan, Payne, Pottawatomie and Seminole.
In 2013, from funds donated and granted, COCAA made over 30,000 transportation trips, through their Central Oklahoma Transit System; taking people to medical appointments, work, school, nutrition appointments, social outings to the Senior Center and shopping. COCAA weatherized over 300 homes, helped more than 500 people and families with their utility bills, provided housing and services for 312 clients at the Mission of Hope (MOH), helped 1,855 families with food and 4,823 individuals with food hampers and the MOH and COCAA’s food pantry in Stillwater. In Cleveland County, COCAA helped over 1,600 people at their food pantry in Norman as well as helping over 400 people during Thanksgiving and Christmas with food and gifts. In Guthrie, 90 families with 235 people were helped with utility bills, and 24 families with 53 people were given emergency food vouchers. The Guthrie VITA (volunteer income tax assistance program) has served approximately 126 families with their tax preparation saving thousands of dollars in fees.
“To still be serving our communities after 46 years is quite an accomplishment,” Executive Director Rebecca Stone said. “However, we cannot just reflect on the past; we have to keep trying to move forward. This means that we are constantly evaluating, and re-evaluating our programs and the needs of the community. To continue to be successful ad attract new programs and funding, we have to be flexible and wiling to adapt. COCAA is ready and willing.”