The war on poverty continues today

Jeff vonKaenel

I am a newspaper publisher. There are some newspaper publishers that spend their time at the office fixing—or breaking—things. I am not one of those publishers. For the past 38 years, my job has been going out and meeting with people. I make a lot of sales calls, and I meet with a lot of people.

I meet small-business owners, marketing people, politicians, corporate leaders, religious leaders, heads of nonprofits and, recently, I have been getting to know Community Action Agencies’ directors across the country. Have you heard of Community Action Agencies?

In 1964, when America was seriously interested in reducing poverty, rather than reducing the tax burden on the super rich, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act, which provided federal funds to counties across the country to promote the health, education and welfare of low-income people. Today, 1,100 Community Action Agencies help 17 million low-income Americans each year.

Over the last 47 years, the Community Action Agencies have established a wide assortment of impressive community-based anti-poverty programs. In Cincinnati, the CAA went into a rough neighborhood and built an incredible housing project, transforming the area. The Action for Boston Community Development Agency developed an intergenerational youth program, matching up senior citizens with youth in the community. In Central Kentucky, they have been able to create a significant number of jobs in an area with extreme poverty. San Louis Obispo is using its Head Start Program to spearhead effective child development in the region. CAAs have more than 40 different program areas, including weatherization, job training, housing, food banks, energy assistance, and financial-literacy programs. Each CAA develops its own programs based on the local need.

I have personally visited 15 different states and have met with dozens of CAA directors. It has been a remarkable experience. Most of the directors I met have been doing this work for as long as 20 years. They have dedicated their lives, at significant personal financial sacrifice, to helping others. They are bright, committed, funny and totally engaged.

Some may think that a good life means having lots of money. I believe that a good life is one with a purpose. These directors’ lives consist of such things as helping a child read before kindergarten, or ensuring that a senior citizen has heat in their home, or making sure a family has a roof over its head. It has been an honor and a delight for me to get to know these hard-working people.

As a newspaper publisher I meet many people, which is often good for business. Meeting the Community Action Agency directors has been good for my soul.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.