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The History of a Resilient Anti-Poverty Crusade

In the heart of America's struggle against poverty, a pivotal moment arrived in August 1964 with President Lyndon B. Johnson's signing of the Economic Opportunity Act. This landmark decision, influenced by advocates like Martin Luther King Jr. and Michael Harrington, marked a fundamental shift, enlisting federal support in the War on Poverty. However, this journey began earlier, with President John Kennedy's initial, though reserved, support.

Community Action Lehigh Valley (CALV) emerged from this national momentum. In December 1965, the Lehigh Valley Community Council, fueled by United Way, embraced the challenge to activate local resources against poverty, leading to CALV's establishment. The early years were a tumultuous blend of triumphs and setbacks. In its pioneering spirit, CALV was instrumental in launching vital community resources like North Penn Legal Services, Community Services for Children, CareerLink, and various neighborhood centers.

The late 1970s brought new challenges. Economic shifts, a growing wealth gap, and a rising conservative tide led to reduced enthusiasm for social welfare. The 1980 election of Ronald Reagan intensified this trend, with proposed cuts to social programs, including Community Action Agencies. A compromise in Congress led to a 25% reduction in core funding for CAAs, transitioning the rest to state control under the Community Services Block Grant.

Troubles continued for CALV. Tagged as one of Pennsylvania's least effective CAAs, it faced probation and potential closure in 1982. With a renewed leadership and a leaner structure, CALV reinvented itself. Amidst the 1980s' severe recession, it focused on creating vital safety nets, including the Second Harvest Food Bank and services for the functionally-disabled.

CALV's advocacy grew more forceful, challenging policies that widened economic disparities. Despite the recovery, the manufacturing sector's decline left deep scars. CALV tirelessly worked towards economic justice, emphasizing that charity alone isn't sufficient.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, CALV shifted towards influencing the broader economy. It championed affordable housing, financial services access, and entrepreneurship. Key initiatives included promoting homeownership, setting up neighborhood-based economic development corporations, and establishing a federally-certified financial institution.

CALV's advocacy addressed diverse issues with lasting impact. Notable successes include the Green Future Fund, community reinvestment achievements, and legislative victories in minimum wage and housing assistance.

Today, CALV stands as a testament to resilience and innovation. It employs over 100 workers, manages a multi-million dollar budget, and owns real estate with minimal debt. Its administrative costs remain low, underlining its commitment to effective, impactful community service.

Community Action Lehigh Valley is part of CAAP, the Pennsylvania State Association that represents the network of 42 Community Action Agencies. We are the statewide voice for local agencies and low-income citizens. CAAP is the primary source of advocacy, education, technical assistance, news, and networking for Community Action in the Commonwealth. CAAP’s vision is to be recognized by Pennsylvania’s policy-setting and legislative groups as the authority on issues of poverty, self-sufficiency, and community development, exemplifying our core values of compassion, honesty, and reliability.

This journey, from a small council responding to a national act to a powerhouse of community transformation, encapsulates the undying spirit of combating poverty. It's a story of adapting, overcoming, and persistently striving for a community where every individual has the opportunity to thrive.

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