A Peek at the Past – Utah Community Action’s History

02 Aug A Peek at the Past – Utah Community Action’s History

Community action programs have a rich and fascinating history in the U.S., so we thought we’d give you a peek at the history of Utah Community Action. After President Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was inaugurated as the new president.


He was committed to many of the policies Kennedy had proposed, including a focus on ending poverty in the United States. During his State of the Union address on January 8, 1964, Johnson declared a war on poverty:

“This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort. It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest nation on Earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it.”

Johnson’s policies created a network all around the country of “community action agencies,” which served as local, non-profit administrators in the war on poverty. Utah Community Action joined this fight in 1965 under the name “Salt Lake Community Action Program.” It was one of the first in the country, the first in Utah, and the first administrators of the Head Start program in the state.

Utah Community Action’s original mission statement was, “To eliminate the paradox of poverty in our affluent society.” Today’s mission references the same goal: “To empower individuals, strengthen families and build communities through self-sufficiency and education programs.”

In the 1960s, Utah Community Action had three original programs:

  1. Head Start
  2. Food pantries
  3. Basic needs & employment


Today, we still focus on these community needs, though our programs have expanded to include six holistic ways to help our clients.

  1. Adult Education
  2. Case Management & Housing
  3. Head Start
  4. HEAT
  5. Nutrition
  6. Weatherization

One of the innovative ways we’ve helped clients over the years is to offer job training and education programs. Many of our former clients are now employed at the agency as Head Start teachers, administrators and program specialists. In fact, our former Executive Director Catherine C. Hoskins started first as a Head Start parent!

Another innovation from our history has grown into a social enterprise: the Head Start Central Kitchen. The agency wanted to improve the quality of the meals and snacks served to Head Start students, but it wasn’t satisfied with outside options for food service. Instead, our staff found a kitchen facility, hired a chef, and began making the meals in-house. This program reduced costs and improved quality. It has expanded over the years to supply over 4500 meals a day to classrooms in our service area. The Central Kitchen also functions as a social enterprise by serving the needs of other pre-K programs, doing catering, and offering job training opportunities for clients.


When Catherine Hoskins retired in 2013, Erin Trenbeath-Murray was chosen as our new Chief Executive Officer. Under her leadership, Utah Community Action has expanded programming, revamped the mission, and broken down silos between departments. All of these efforts have helped us build a reputation for quality services in our community.

Earlier this year, you may have known us as Salt Lake Community Action Program, but we recently rebranded as part of our efforts to innovate. Utah Community Action better reflects how we’ve grown over the years and the broader community we serve.


From President Johnson’s vision to the current presidential election year, community action agencies like ours have kept a steady eye on the state of poverty in the United States. Utah Community Action programs are funded by federal programs, public partnerships, and private donors, many of which face uncertainty with the passage of time. But our goals are certain: we are committed to ending poverty.

We assist income-eligible families with services including Adult Education, Case Management & Housing, HEAT, Head Start, Nutrition and Weatherization to help them achieve self-reliance.