What is a Community Action Agency?

A Community Action Agency is a nonprofit organization that conducts a wide variety of social services in order to help low-income people break the cycle of poverty and become self-sufficient. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act which created Community Action Agencies (CAAs). The Act grew out of the belief that low-income people know best what their community’s challenges are and how to work together to overcome them.

CAAs sponsor food banks, programs for the elderly, youth programs, legal services, affordable housing, home repair and job training. CAAs are funded through a combination of federal state and local grants, and donations from individuals. Federal funding for CAAs comes from the Community Service Block Grant Program.

The Community Services Block Grant

The Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) provides funds to alleviate the causes and conditions of poverty in communities.

In addition, discretionary grants are available at the statewide or local level, or for associations with demonstrated expertise in addressing the needs of low-income families, such as Community Action Agencies (CAAs) including SEICAA.

With the support of CSBG funding, states and CAAs, like SEICAA, work together to achieve the following goals for low-income individuals:

  • Increased Self-Sufficiency
  • Improved Living Conditions
  • Ownership of and Pride in Their Communities
  • Strong Family and Support Systems

SEICAA’s History

SEICAA began as a small group of volunteers who began serving noon meals to seniors in 1963. Although it was a day-to day struggle to keep the program alive, these dedicated volunteers managed to continue serving meals by buying for the current day with proceeds from the previous day. In 1968, Bannock County proposed a combination recreation and social service neighborhood center with opportunities for seniors and low-income youth. It was soon to be known as Southeastern Idaho Community Action Agency, and was formally incorporated in 1969. Gary H. Gunnerson, a native of Utah, was the first Executive Director.

It was in 1972 that the Agency began moving into full community action status. Staff was hired to set up a program for senior citizens, a low income women’s program, RSVP, a housing coalition, an information referral system, a senior transit system as well as an ancillary staff consisting of an accountant, bookkeeper and a secretary/administrative assistant. There was also a Weatherization program. The aging program for seniors provided daily meals and a place in which seniors could socialize with others through music, dancing and such classes as ceramics and china painting.

Various programs in Pocatello coordinated their efforts to provide greater services throughout the community. Pocatello Organization for Women (POW) was the name for the program to help low income women develop more confidence in themselves and encourage them to become more assertive – especially through furthering their education. The housing coalition was made up of people of diversity in the community who worked to improve better housing for low-income families. It became the forerunner of the Pocatello Housing Authority. The transit system consisted of two vehicles and later named Tello Bus. Seniors could call to be picked up to come to the agency or for other purposes. Drivers were radioed by the dispatcher back at the agency. Nursing home residents, regardless of age, were also brought to the meal program. The Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) was also set up as was the Meals On Wheels program, Weatherization and the Information Referral system.

For over five decades now, SEICAA has provided the region with a variety of anti-poverty programs. Some have disappeared as federal funds were reduced; others have become separate agencies. Today SEICAA continues to administer and develop programs responsive to the needs of elderly, disabled and low-income people.

Board of Directors

By federal law, SEICAA’s governing Board of Directors is composed of one-third low-income residents or their representatives, one-third publicly elected officials or their designees, with the remainder being members of the private sector such as business, industry, labor, religion, welfare, education and so on.

Executive Directors

  • 2022 – Present: Joe Borich
  • 2022 – 2022: Debra R. Hemmert, Interim Director
  • 2020 – 2022: Shantay Bloxham
  • 2001 – 2020: Debra R. Hemmert, CCAP
  • 1998 – 2001: Pamela McKinley
  • 1997 – 1998: Debra R. Hemmert, Interim Director
  • 1983 – 1997: Janice Perry Rhoads
  • 1975 – 1983: Carl Griffin
  • 1969 – 1975: Gary H. Gunnerson