DECATUR – Gail Evans, one of Decatur-Macon County Opportunities Corp.'s first hires, started as an outreach worker, knocking on doors.
Executive director since 1974, Evans feels like she's come full circle as the community action agency this week marks its 50th anniversary of fighting President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty.
“We have to focus on getting more private sector involvement and philanthropic funding sources,” she said. “We just have to go out and bang on somebody else's door.”
State block grant programs replaced several federal funding sources for DMCOC and other community action agencies in 1982, then most recently federal sequestration contributed to a reduction in the agency's budget from $9.8 million in 2011 to $7.7 million for 2013.
DMCOC was formed under the Economic Opportunity Act, signed into law on Aug. 20, 1964. A decade later the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity providing oversight was superseded by the Community Services Administration.
The Decatur agency's largest and oldest initiative is its Head Start program, given the name of former community organizer Anna Waters in 1971, a program that today serves 378 3- and 4-year-olds at the Effie Oliver Child & Family Center at 1075 N. Morgan St. and the New Horizon Family & Child Development Center at 275 E. Condit St.
The New Horizon center, a $1.9 million building completed in 1994 and built by the Illinois Facilities Fund, is an example of the type of collaboration Evans hopes to achieve. The city of Decatur and the James Millikin estate supplied the $100,000 local match, and the Decatur Housing Authority was another partner in the project.
Other long-term programs provided by DMCOC include energy, or utility bill, assistance; weatherization assistance; senior nutrition, primarily to nine congregate meal sites including the Decatur-Macon County Senior Center, Mount Zion Majestic Hall and Maroa Cafe; and housing and emergency services.
The agency's Community Services Block Grant programs also provide computer classes, case management and loans to small businesses that hire low-income individuals.