Fighting Poverty in Lincoln and Beyond

Community ActionProvides Needed Services & Empowering Support to Improve Lives

by Isabella Petty and Heather Loughman

Throughout all human existence, change has been the one and only constant. Change is always occurring, and in the 1960s there was an abundance of it, including one event that forever impacted Lincoln and like communities across the United States. President Lyndon Johnson declared an “unconditional war on poverty” in his first State of the Union Address in 1964. Johnson’s vision, called The Great Society, was to build a more equitable America—an America that provided those living in poverty with opportunities to realize their dreams and build better lives for themselves and their families. Born of this vision, the Economic 
Opportunity Act became the law of the land. Many anti-poverty programs we still know today—Job Corps, Peace Corps, and Head Start—were created as a result of this legislation. 

Another bold anti-poverty program born out of the Economic Opportunity Act called Community Action was created. Community Action was different from similar programs because it called for those living in poverty to have a voice in what kinds of services would help them the most. It gave local communities across America a chance to implement programming specific to their own community’s needs. And by October of 1965, Lincoln incorporated its own Community Action agency.     

Today, Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders Counties is a reflection of its original mission to help people living in poverty to reach economic stability. The agency addresses the causes and conditions of poverty unique to those living within its service area. Seventeen distinct programs are provided within four impact areas: Early Childhood Education, Homelessness Prevention, Financial and Family Well-Being, and Hunger Relief. In 2017 alone, the agency provided 79,122 poverty fighting services to 17,499 individuals.

Through its early childhood education programs, Early Head Start and Head Start, the agency works to prepare some of our community’s most vulnerable babies, toddlers, and preschoolers for success in kindergarten. The program offers both home- and center-based options, which are provided at no cost to eligible families. Beyond providing high-quality support to children to ensure that their cognitive, social-emotional, language, and physical developmental milestones are met, parents are also empowered to reach their own personal and parenting goals. 

Programs respond to critical needs. 
According to most recent Census data, in the city of Lincoln alone, nearly 5,000 children ages five and under are living below the federal poverty level. These children, by no fault of their own, face some of the greatest risk factors for reaching success not only in kindergarten, but in life. It is during a child’s first five years that key areas of development are being formed. And when children experience the conditions of poverty—whether hunger, toxic stress, or homelessness—their development falters, forever impacting their ability to learn. Community Action’s Head Start programs address these factors to ensure children receive the interventions they need to reach developmental milestones, and that their families are equipped and ready to support them. 

Community Action also provides programming geared toward preventing and eliminating homelessness. While homelessness in Lincoln has been on a steady decline since 2012, there is still much work to be done, especially as it relates to prevention. With over 40,000 individuals living in poverty in Lincoln alone, many are often just one life event—be it job loss, illness, or escaping an abusive relationship—away from homelessness. Through its homelessness prevention programs, Community Action provides targeted services and support to eliminate factors that could lead to homelessness. These services include, but are not limited to, rent and utility assistance, tenant/landlord education and mediation, affordable housing, and financial case management. Through its Supportive Housing program, the agency also works to eliminate homelessness. The program has the ability to house 40 homeless families and provide weekly case management for up to two years that supports participants’ goal of long-term self-sufficiency. Through case management, families receive empowering support in the areas of personal financial counseling, goal planning, employment search and stabilization, parenting skills, and tenant education.

The agency’s Financial and Family Well-Being programs are geared toward increasing the financial stability of those living in poverty. Services provided are intended to provide individuals with the specific support they need to help economic stability and prevent financial crisis. These services include, but are not limited to, financial education and coaching, matched savings, connection to affordable healthcare, and free tax preparation. The agency’s Weatherization program also provides specific improvement services, such as furnace tune-ups, insulation, and weather stripping and caulking, to increase home energy efficiency and lower utility bills.

Finally, through its soup kitchen, The Gathering Place, Community Action addresses hunger and food insecurity through the provision of free hot evening meals. The Gathering Place, which celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2017, provides meals on a no-questions-asked basis; anyone experiencing hunger is welcome to join for a nutritious meal. Guests visiting The Gathering Place feel warm and welcome. The soup kitchen is situated in an old brick home built in 1905 just blocks away from the Nebraska State Capitol building. Its wood flooring, cozy fireplace, spacious front porch, and welcoming staff and volunteers emit the feelings of a home—something many guests don’t otherwise experience in their daily lives. The soup kitchen serves over 27,000 meals each year.

Community Action is a truly unique place in Lincoln. It’s a place where its employees and volunteers care deeply about their work and the people they’re serving. It’s a place that provides individuals, regardless of who they are or where they’ve been, with the opportunity to change their lives. And it’s a place—after 53 years—that continues to assess community needs and innovate to better serve those living in poverty in its service area.

For more information about Community Action, including how to help, visit or call (402) 471-4515. 

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