Concerned community volunteers secured a grant from the national Community Services Administration to organize a grass-roots effort to fight the conditions that create poverty and to help those in poverty to become self-sufficient. The citizens incorporated as “The Opportunity Corporation of Asheville & Buncombe County” and received a federal designation as a Community Action Agency.
Three major events occurred in 1965 that affect the Agency to this day. The Agency represented Madison County and applied for N.C. Office Economic Opportunity funding. Doing so caused agency leaders to change its governance structure and name (…Madison and Buncombe Counties) to reflect the new constituency. The Agency also applied for and received one of the first Head Start, (summer) grants in the nation, and support from the Adult and Childcare Food Program to provide healthy lunches and snacks to Head Start Children.
The Head Start program was funded for the full school-year. From that point on through the mid-70s, the Agency participated in rural and urban development activities for youth and unemployed adults.
During the oil crisis the Carter Administration proposed federal legislation that created and funded the Weatherization Assistance Program. This legislation named Community Action Agencies as the preferred delivery organization.
For the next 10 years
The Agency stabilized and matured. Many federal funds were combined in block-grants and administered by states. This new funding relationship challenged staff to develop the skills necessary to learned how to navigate and comply with new and increased federal and state standards and expectations.
At the encouragement of the N.C. Office Economic Opportunity fiscal staff prepared the Agency’s first Indirect Cost Plan and applied for and received an Indirect Cost Rate Agreement.
New fiscal staff recognized the need to automate the accounting system and procured the Grants Management System software. This product allowed the staff to merge five bank accounts into one and convert 15 sets of manual books into an automated accounting system. This automated system marked the beginning of the Agency’s excellence in fiscal management and reporting. The system also promoted the most efficient use of limited staff resources.
The Agency created the first iteration of a self-sufficiency program using the Community Service Block Grant. The Agency also developed several key collaborative agreements with local school systems to support Head Start activities. These unique agreements utilized school system resources to help serve the children in outlying areas.
The State Energy Office, received an allocation from the Low Income Energy Assistance Program and funded the Agency to operate the Heating/Air Repair and Replacement Program to complement and support Weatherization Services customers in need.
mid- to late-1990s
The Agency expanded the number of Head Start children funded by the federal government, renovated a city-owned facility to offer full-day, full-year services to 90 children, received new state appropriations to enhance the quality of early childhood development activities and began a team-based design process for a new agency-owned Program Services Building.
During this time, agency leadership also drafted what are still the Agency’s guiding principles for interactions and decisions. These principles – Teamwork, Communication, Quality and Respect – created the foundation for the Agency’s renewed Mission and Vision.
September of 2000
After 36 years as a “renter,” the Agency took ownership of a team-designed, new building located at 25 Gaston Street in Asheville. This move marked the physical transition of agency offices from an old, cramped and poorly functioning space to one with advanced technology, clean, user-friendly work areas and a variety of meeting space. The change also marked the transition of the Agency from one that always needed to borrow space from other organizations to conduct routine business meetings to one that could offer comfortable, free space to other nonprofit groups.
This decade also became the Agency’s most productive, marking us as a high-performance, high-quality service organization. The Agency:
- improved and strengthened the Self-Sufficiency Program, (now called Life Works), launched Accountable Results for Community Action, (AR4CA) an in-house database program that tracked and reported customer progress and outcomes.
- initiated an education benefit to address staff training and development needs; supporting teaching staff in their efforts to earn a Birth-Kindergarten licensure.
- contracted with an independent researcher to conduct a quantitative and qualitative evaluation of Life Works Program, the outcome of which determined the program to be “best practice.”
- changed the Agency name to “Community Action Opportunities” to clearly identify brand with the Community Action philosophy and network.
- provided access and training for Accountable Results for Community Action (AR4CA) to other N.C. Community Action Agencies conducting self-sufficiency initiatives, Weatherization and Heating/Air Repair and Replacement Services.
- Received tri-annual comprehensive federal monitoring reviews of the Agency’s Head Start program. In early 2007, the team determined that the program was 100% in compliance with all standards, rules and regulations. In late 2009 a different federal team found two areas of non-compliance, one of which was corrected onsite.
- Became the stewards of the N.C. Family Development Credential training and later developed a Leader Training.
- Expanded Weatherization Services to Henderson and Transylvania Counties.
The Agency received and used a substantial amount of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) funding for program activities to support the economic stimulus and in 2010, when the ARRA-funded support ended for CSBG, Head Start received ongoing support in the amount equal to that it received from the ARRA-related funding.
In partnership with Buncombe County Department of Social Services, the Agency launched a project, Nurturing Parenting that is an evidence based program for the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect.
The Agency received a funding modification that allowed the Agency to continue ARRA-funded Weatherization Services activities for single-family until the end of 2012.
The N.C. State Energy Office invited the Agency to be one of three organizations, to participate in a public/private pilot project to develop and implement Weatherization Services to multi-family complexes.
The Agency managed through a significant, mid-year state funding cut to our Head Start Program. Even so, we continue to maintain our high quality program standards.
We maintained our 5-star childcare licensing rating at all Head Start classroom locations.
18 of our 27 Head Start teachers hold a degree in early childhood, or equivalent, with Birth-Kindergarten licensure.
Life Works continues as a “best-practice” self-sufficiency program.
Weatherization Services administration and field work will exceed state and federal quality standards.
The ARRA extended funding for Weatherization Services for single-family homes and multi-family complexes through September 2013.
The Agency began the Community Response Project. This three year grant project is funded by the Children’s Trust Fund in partnership with Buncombe County Health and Human Services. The staff works closely with families to enhance protective factors to prevent child abuse and neglect.
The Life Works self-sufficiency program extended services to McDowell County.
Unlike many other Community Action Agencies, we focus public attention on our program needs and customer recruitment activities, rather than on the “Agency” as the umbrella organization. Also, unlike many other CAAs, we refuse to define ourselves by our funding streams. We support and promote our program activities by maintaining a strong infrastructure and remaining committed to our agency principles, mission and vision.