On May 6, 1966, the East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corporation (ECKAN) was incorporated in the State of Kansas as part of the, “ Economic Opportunity Act of 1964,” known as The War on Poverty, to fight poverty in East Central Kansas with federal support in the form of Community Service Block Grants (CSBG). Local control and decision making were hallmarks of this legislation. Local representation and accountability was given to a board of 15–one third representatives of low-income communities, one third elected officials or their appointed representatives and one third from the community at large.
Three months later, on August 17, 1966, ECKAN operations began with a $20,000 budget, a small staff, and the promised grant from the Federal Office of Economic Opportunity. Six counties–Coffey, Douglas, Franklin, Lyon, Miami, and Osage–made up ECKAN and its office was located on the third floor of the Franklin County Courthouse.
ECKAN grew from these early roots of a Head Start Program, family planning, and a job training program. At its 50-year mark ECKAN operated five Head Start Centers, partnered with four childcare centers to do Early Head Start programming, and had 15 home visitors working with children ages 3 to 5; owned and rented 53 units of housing for low-income families and individuals; dispersed on average more than 260 HUD Section 8 Housing Vouchers monthly; operated Community Social Service Centers in eight counties (partnering with Catholic Charities to provide services in Johnson County); distributed thousands of pounds of food to low-income families each month; and weatherized homes in 13 Kansas counties. The staff of 85 worked with volunteers and community partners in every community to give low-income people a helping hand.
May 31, 2019, Richard Jackson,who spent 50 years in Comunity Action with most of those as CEO, retired from ECKAN.
ECKAN is one of more than 1,000 Community Action agencies born during the 1960s federal War on Poverty to encourage local solutions. The nation’s Community Action Agencies embody our nation’s spirit of hope, change people’s lives, and improve communities. When national, state and local leaders tap into the experience of agencies like ECKAN, they can promote workable solutions that connect more families to opportunity – making east central Kansas and America a better place to live for everyone.
Watch this three-minute video for a quick history of community action: