In 1966, three years after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act, the agency now known as Community Service Programs of West Alabama (CSP), Inc., opened its doors to provide assistance to low-income families and individuals as well as those with special needs in the Tuscaloosa area. CSP, which operates as a private, non-profit, community action agency, is an initiative of Johnson’s Great Society Campaign and War on Poverty that began, in Johnson’s words, with hopes to “eliminate the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty by opening to everyone the opportunity for education and training, the opportunity to work, and the opportunity to live in decency and dignity.”
Jerry Griffin, a well-known social work professor at the University of Alabama, became the first executive director of Community Service Programs of West Alabama. His passion and resilience proved to be the motivating force behind the agency’s early goal of community organization. With the motto: “A hand up, not just a hand out” and an emphasis on training, CSP focused on getting people to collaborate for the betterment of their community, while equipping them with basic skills needed to promote independence.
Today, CSP of West Alabama serves those in need throughout an Ten-county service area, encompassing Bibb, Choctaw, Dallas, Fayette, Greene, Hale, Lamar, Perry, Sumter and Tuscaloosa. As a community action agency, the governance body is tripartite, composed of one-third elected officials or their representatives, one-third business/civic organizations and one-third low income individuals/organizations. The board is currently chaired by Freddie Washington.
Under the direction of the present Executive Director, Cynthia W. Burton, the agency continues in carrying out its motto, “Committed to Building Stronger Families and Communities,” which is the foundation on which the agency provides services through innovative programs in supportive services, education and housing.
CSP maintains collaborative relationships with other non-profits and resource agencies as well as faith-based entities in order to provide a full array of resources to its client base.
CSP’s Supportive Services Department aids families with direct resources through:
- Energy assistance
- Emergency aid
- Food distribution
- Workforce development
- Life skills training and
- Referrals to other agencies
CSP of West Alabama administers educational programs that prepare children to develop to their fullest potential. Early Intervention is designed to help children under the age of three who have developmental delays or who may be pre-disposed to development delays because of a medical diagnosis. Services offered through the Early Intervention Program treat delays in the following areas: motor, cognitive, adaptive, communication as well as medical diagnoses, such as Spina Bifida, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and autism. Early Head Start provides a range of quality health and family services to expectant mothers, infants and toddlers. Head Start is a comprehensive child development program that serves the needs of over 900 children and their families in West Alabama. Individualized services are in the areas of health, nutrition, parent involvement and family development with the program’s focus being preparing young children for future success through school readiness programs.
CSP believes innovative programs are increasingly necessary to provide working families the opportunity to obtain decent, safe and affordable housing. Some of these programs, provided through a collaboration with NeighborWorks America®, include:
- New construction
- Property management of the agency’s rental units
- Specialized housing for the elderly and disabled
- Housing counseling
- Homebuyer education
- Lease-purchase programs
- Housing rehabilitation
- Foreclosure prevention
From meager beginnings, CSP has grown into a premiere resource agency for the low-income and special needs population of West Alabama. Its current budget exceeds $12 million dollars and the executive director and her management staff continue to seek additional resources to increase the agency’s ability to lead clients to self-sufficiency.