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Our History

The Community Action Movement

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson and the US Congress enacted into law the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) and the War on Poverty was declared.

The Act established the Office of Economic Opportunity, which was a part of the executive branch of government and reported directly to the President. In the next two years, more than 1600 Community Action agencies were created. Today, only about 900 of those original programs are still in operation, fighting an enemy that has not lost its foothold in our socio-economic landscape.

In May of 1965, the Community Action Organization of Erie County (CAO) was incorporated under the laws of the State of New York and designated as the official, anti-poverty agency for the county with a mission that focused on serving the unmet needs of our low-income population. Over the years, the CAO has been recognized by the Community Action movement as one of the nation’s strongest operations. This recognition has been garnered as a result of the guidance and tireless efforts of the agency’s three leaders; the late Ambrose Lane who helped to create the Community Action Organization; Julian B. Dargan who steered the agency from 1970 until 2002; and, L. Nathan Hare, our current President and CEO who is ushering the agency into a new era.

In 2017, the agency’s name was officially changed to the Community Action Organization of Western New York, Inc. after its Head Start and Early Head Start programs were expanded to serve children in both Erie and Niagara County.

As our world changes, so too, is the charge of the CAO. We can’t do it alone, but we will continue to fulfill a promise made by the organization over 50 years ago to boldly and strategically lead the charge to break the cycle of poverty by building equity in the citizens and communities of Western New York.