Our History - SMILE Community Action Agency
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Our History

weavingPeople Helping People is a noble phrase, one that almost assumes a spiritual connotation with an American public influenced by Judeo-Christian principles and ethics. However, without a concerted effort through vital resources and funding, the concept lacks the means to significantly change the lives of poor people. The federal government acknowledged this fact with the enactment of the Economic Opportunity Act of August 1964.

The Act provided for the establishment and funding of Community Action agencies and programs. Its purpose was to focus all available local, state, private and federal resources so that low-income individuals and families could attain the skills, knowledge, motivation and opportunities needed to become self-sufficient. Its primary mission was to make the entire community more responsive to the needs and interests of the poor.

Although the undertaking of such a mission was monumental, concerned local citizens were determined to set into place the mechanism to assist the area’s poor. In 1965, a non-profit organization called Acadiana Neuf was founded to serve the needs of the poor; it was the forerunner of SMILE Community Action Agency. The consortium of nine parishes included St. Martin, Iberia and Lafayette, as well as Acadia, Avoyelles, Evangeline, Pointe Coupee, St. Landry and Vermilion.

While representatives struggled to define the organization, three of the parishes – Avoyelles, Evangeline and Pointe Coupee – withdrew. The remaining six parishes persevered against odds and even achieved a measure of success. The organization selected Mr. Gordain Sibille as its first executive director, and was awarded an initial grant of slightly over $40,000 to serve the needs of school dropouts through education, training and counseling. This was later followed by grants for Head Start, remedial reading and other projects that were consistent with the organization’s mission.

Inasmuch as the Economic Opportunity Act made provisions for the delegation of activities, Acadiana Neuf entered into contractual arrangements for many of its services. Organizations such as the St. Martin Parish School Board, St. Landry Parish School Board and the Southern Consumer Education Foundation were engaged to administer pilot programs such as Head Start. Acadiana Neuf was also successful in securing funding for programs such as Medicare Alert, Neighborhood Referral Workers Program and Neighborhood Service Centers.

Even while achieving moderate success in these initial endeavors, the young organization still did not have the internal stability required to be truly effective. Instead, sectionalism and personality clashes eventually led to Acadiana Neuf being phased out in April 1967.

In its aftermath, individual parishes opted for autonomy, having become disillusioned by the consortium concept. Iberia Parish formed a single-parish agency; Lafayette attempted a limited agency for sponsoring Head Start, which had emerged as a highly effective vehicle for realizing social competency among mostly lower income families. While acknowledging that these single-parish organizations were serving a useful purpose, the general consensus was that they were much too limited in scope to truly serve the needs of the area’s disadvantaged populations. Movement toward a multi-parish agency was started by such visionaries as the Rev. Stovall and State Sen. Edgar Mouton.

The concept of a tri-parish agency – serving St. Martin, Iberia and Lafayette Parishes – was developed through the efforts of pioneers such as Dr. James Oliver, Mr. Dennis David and Mr. Carlton James, who were formerly associated with Acadiana Neuf, as well as newcomers such as Mr. Charles Finley, Mr. L.L. Broussard, Mr. William Prade and Mrs. Jessie Taylor. These concerned citizens became the principal architects of what is now known as the St. Martin, Iberia, Lafayette Community Action Agency – SMILE.

As the Agency looks to the future, painstaking efforts are taken to ensure that SMILE remains true to its primary mission – serving the needs of the impoverished. The founding fathers would indeed be pleased to know that the torch has been passed without cessation or deviation these many years. While challenges are ahead, the concept of People Helping People is remains the guiding force – interwoven in SMILE’s history.

Smile Community Action