|The History of NORWESCAP and the Story of Community Action
NORWESCAP is a private, non-profit corporation originally established in 1965 under the Economic Opportunity Act to serve the low-income population of Hunterdon, Sussex and Warren Counties.
The Community Action Agency, under “Johnson’s Great Society” was the local vehicle to fight poverty. Elimination of poverty was one of the issues in the forefront during the years of 1964-1974.
Johnson was inspired by President Kennedy and wanted to provide equal opportunity for all by enacting new services and programs within the federal system. Community Action was a bold way for the government to provide services and it maximized local control and participation.
The Northwest New Jersey Community Action Partnership had great political power in the community and the state in 1966, along with a $3 million budget and the administrative staff of the Executive Director and three Assistant Directors. The agency was in the community with one dozen service centers (outreach offices) in the three counties providing direct access to agency staff in the community.
In the years 1974 through August of 1981, the Community Service Agency was the successor to the Office of Economic Opportunity. This was the beginning of hard times for Community Action Programs. In 1976, NORWESCAP had a budget totaling $1 million, and in 1977, a budget totaling $2 million. 1979 brought an increase in both programs and additional funding sources with a $4 million budget. The Onmibus Reconciliation Act dissolved the Community Service Agency (CSA) in 1981. Many considered this the official end to the war on poverty. About 800 of the community action agencies across the nation dissolved, leaving approximately 1,000 agencies.
September 1981 was the start of the Community Services Block Grant, the successor to the CSA. This new block grant is in the Office of Community Services within the Department of Human Services and dramatically changed the way federal funding was distributed to local communities.
1981 was a bleak year for NORWESCAP with the closeout of all Community Services Administration contracts and reduction in funds for various programs. The CSA funding of $1.5 million dollars became a block grant of $154,000. The very dedicated staff that remained increased their workload in order to serve the same number of persons in Hunterdon, Sussex and Warren Counties.
In 1985, the agency expanded to Somerset County providing WIC and weatherization services. Later, NORWESCAP expanded to Morris County, who was without a community action program. NORWESCAP now services approximately 35,000 persons in its service area a year. Services have continued in Hunterdon, Morris, Somerset, Sussex, Warren and other counties including Passaic have some limited services and programs.
The Agency has remained true to maximum participation and has a 15 member Board of Trustees that includes one-third of board members that are low income or represent low income individuals. The agency employs about 300 persons, both full and part time, dedicated to housing development, energy conservation, child care, Head Start, volunteerism, nutrition, child care referral, outreach, information & referral, food bank, case management, and utility assistance programs. The agency is administratively responsible to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. Community Action remains an important local resource for families with NORWESCAP and other agencies across the country demonstrating their cost effective service delivery method which creates thriving communities.