About Us

CAO is on the frontlines every day to mitigate the effects of poverty, on low-income communities throughout Western New York. As experts on poverty, we are leading the charge to provide solutions that empower our clients to become self-reliant. Annually, CAO serves more than 50,000 families and individuals in Western New York through various programs and services. Learn more about CAO through our 2020 Community Impact Report.

Our History

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson and the US Congress enacted into law the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA), and the War on Poverty was declared.

The Act established the Office of Economic Opportunity, which was a part of the executive branch of government and reported directly to the President. In the next two years, more than 1,600 Community Action agencies were created. Today, only about 900 of those original programs are still in operation, fighting an enemy that has not lost its foothold in our socio-economic landscape.

In May of 1965, the Community Action Organization of Erie County (CAO) was incorporated under the laws of the State of New York and designated as the official anti-poverty agency for the county with a mission that focused on serving the unmet needs of our low-income population. Over the years, the CAO has been recognized by the Community Action movement as one of the nation’s strongest operations. This recognition has been garnered as a result of the guidance and tireless efforts of the agency’s three leaders: the late Ambrose Lane, who helped to create the Community Action Organization; Julian B. Dargan, who steered the agency from 1970 until 2002; and L. Nathan Hare, who succeeded Dargan and served as the President and CEO until his retirement in early February 2021. Thomas Kim, who was appointed President and CEO in early 2021, is currently leading the agency with the vision of expanding the agency’s reach, services, and community engagement and partnership initiatives. 

In 2017, the agency’s name was officially changed to the Community Action Organization of Western New York, Inc. after its Head Start and Early Head Start programs were expanded to serve children in both Erie and Niagara County.

Our Vision

As our world changes, so too, is the charge of the CAO. We can’t do it alone, but we will continue to fulfill a promise made by the organization over 50 years ago to boldly and strategically lead the charge in breaking the cycle of poverty by building equity in the citizens and communities of Western New York. To do this, we are seeking collaboration with health centers, educational and cultural institutions, law enforcement personnel, police-community engagement teams, business owners, and executives to help us build safe, healthy, and thriving communities. We’re striving to help our neighbors receive equal opportunities through a multi-pronged approach that includes creating affordable housing, early childhood education programs such as Head Start/Early Head Start, youth programs, and vocational and entrepreneurship initiatives. Through it all, we aim to be a beacon of hope for our communities — and a model for Community Action organizations across the country.

Thank You

We want to give special thanks to the former CEO and President L. Nathan Hare for serving CAO for 18 years. During his time of service, Hare developed CAO into one of the largest social service agencies in the area and one of the nation’s most successful community action programs. Hare has dedicated most of his life to working with youth employment, youth training and education, foster care, social services, and juvenile justice. Hare’s integrated approach to poverty alleviation by addressing its complex and interrelated causes has made him one of the most sought-after experts in New York State’s War on Poverty. He has offered his profound perspective on public policy, poverty, youth development, and the state of the economy. We are grateful for L. Nathan Hare’s dedication, service, and sacrifice to CAO and our community.

"I am a single mother and my daughter has been a part of CAO programs like Head Start, NURTURE and the Sports P.L.U.S. program since age 3. I would like to thank the people at CAO for giving their time to not only my daughter, but helping me finish my graduate degree and become debt free after losing my job."

Sheritta Ward

"I am a very proud parent of a child who has been in a CAO Head Start Academy for the last two years. Next year, he will be going to Global Concepts Charter School because of the patient, kind hearted, professional and intelligent teachers at CAO that always go above and beyond what they need to."

Kelly Kreuder

"I would like to thank CAO for allowing me to pursue my education as an Education Task Force recipient. Coming from a single parent household wasn't the easiest but I pushed through and I am glad to say that I will be continuing my education to receive my Doctorate in Organizational Leadership and Change."

John Roberts