Community Action Agency
Building Opportunities to Transform Communities
On May 18, 1965, Tri-County Opportunities Council, Community Action Agency, was incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation in the State of Illinois for the following purposes:
1. To investigate the incidence, location and character of poverty in the counties of Lee, Ogle and Whiteside.
2. To develop a program for the elimination of poverty in those counties through the cooperative efforts of public agencies, private organizations and interested citizens under the terms and employing of the facilities of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964.” (The War on Poverty as envisioned by President Lyndon B. Johnson).
Although the Articles of Incorporation have been amended four times in order to add new counties and new programming, the purpose of the Agency remains essentially the same.
While this new program and organization-TCOC-had a number of dedicated, interested supporters, its formation was not without controversy. Editorials, news articles and letters to the editor used such phrases as “wasting money”, “a giveaway program”, “will damage their (poor people’s) desire to be self-sustaining”, something for nothing”, “glamorizes and rewards laziness”.
But the group of founders and supporters persevered. A Board was formed consisting of 30 individuals (10 from each county), office space obtained at the Rock Falls High School and a grant written. The Board of Directors was headed by Ben Jokerst, Jr. of Rock Falls. The Rev. Alden Hickman, a Presbyterian pastor from Dixon, acted as the agency director, both unpaid and paid, during the first year.
The first funding for this fledgling Community Action Agency was granted by the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) on December 3, 1965, in the amount of $34,839 which paid for a director and staff who would conduct a survey of conditions of poverty and resulting needs in the three counties.
By October, 1966, TCOC, small and new as it was, had accomplished some amazing feats.
From 1965 through 1975, TCOC operated under the regulatory authority of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) serving the three Illinois Counties of Whiteside, Lee and Ogle. Programs operated were: Foster Grandparent (1966); Neighborhood Youth Corps (1966); Rural Resource Centers/Outreach Services (1967); Head Start (1967); Family Planning (1972).
In 1975 OEO was changed to the Community Services Administration (CSA) and Tri-County added Carroll County to their service area with the inception of the Homemaker/Chore-Housekeeping Program. The Weatherization Program was obtained by the agency in 1977 and TCOC was asked to expand that service into Bureau, LaSalle and Putnam Counties, thus growing the service area again. 30 new employees were hired within just two days.
In 1981 CSA was dismantled and the funds were given to the states as the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG). The Agency added the counties of Marshall and Stark to their service area.
Between 1981 and the present, several major programs and services were added to the Agency operations including: Small Business Loan Program (1983); Homeless Program (1992); Microenterprise Development (1994); Family and Community Development (1995); Homebuyer Assistance Program (1998); Individual Development Accounts (1999); Head Start expansion to Marshall, Putnam and Stark Counties (1999); Food Pantry (1999); Transitional Housing (1999); Migrant and Seasonal Farm Workers Head Start (2007); Homeless Prevention Rapid Rehousing and the Home Mod Program (2009). The agency also experience serious growth with the release of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.
TCOC voluntarily relinquished the funding for the Homemaker Program in 2013 due to the continuation of slow payment from the state for those services and the effect on the agency cash flow. Over 100 staff lost their jobs and over 500 clients lost their services from TCOC, however, the agency worked with other community agencies to insure all of those clients had alternative services and that staff had other opportunities for employment.
TCOC celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015. The Agency went from the original budget of just over $34,000 to a budget of approximately $14,500,000 in 2015. Despite the struggles of the past and the present, TCOC has been, and is, a strong organization and it will continue to be so in the future because of the commitment of its staff, Board and volunteers to a vision of a just society for all people.