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Social workers, NASW active in War on Poverty initiatives

By Paul R. Pace, News staff

Social workers and NASW played active roles in local, state and federal programs that arose from President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” initiative that he declared in 1964.

NASW Social Work Pioneer® Jack Hansan was one of these social workers. Hansan’s close association with area civil rights leaders and elected officials in the early 1960s helped him become the first executive director of the Community Action Commission of the Cincinnati area.

Community action programs were at the heart of the Economic Opportunity Act, signed into law in August 1964, Hansan said.

The Cincinnati Community Action Commission was among the first to receive newly available federal Community Action funds in late 1964.

The grants helped to establish a series of preschool programs in five counties, as well as neighborhood centers, dental clinics and other programs, Hansan said.

“We worked with the community leadership to establish new and autonomous organizations operated and controlled by community people,” he said of how the centers were operated.

Hansan noted that the Community Action Commission did not compete with the city government, the welfare department, school boards or community chests.

“We tried to use the prospect of new federal funds to get the established agencies and governments to be more sensitive to the needs of the poor and responsive to their demands for services,” he said.

Many of the programs the commission started were copied by the Office of Economic Opportunity and made into national initiatives, Hansan said. For example, the Cincinnati Community Action Commission preschool program was the genesis of the national Head Start program.

“It was an exciting time. I loved it,” Hansan said. “It was great.”

From the May 2014 NASW News. NASW members can read the full story after logging in.

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