Upstate Modern is a series of courses and public programs at Syracuse University examining the urban history of Upstate New York through transdisciplinary research that draws on archives, buildings, landscapes, and communities.

PEACE Inc.; forty five years in war against poverty

By Victoria Gueglio.

Founded in 1968, in Onondaga County, PEACE, Inc. (People’s Equal Action and Community Effort, Inc.) is a local Community Action Agency (C.A.A) which main purpose is to fight poverty. Their agenda is to administer programs like home aides, housing services, legal services and Head Start, to assist poor people. Moreover, “to stimulate a better focusing of all available resources”. PEACE Inc.’s philosophy is to maximize the community involvement in planning and developing the programs. Over the past 45 years, they have grown and expanded their installations, moved the main office to downtown Syracuse, and, the most recent change, redesign of the logo to update to this time’s needs. My concern is that this update and perpetuation in time and the essential role it now has, might be leading to assist eternal poverty conditions, instead of fighting them.

Syracuse Herald- Journal, Saturday February 15 1969. Herman Seals, deputy director , presents check to Nancy Ambrose, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John C. Amrose, for her award winning design of a new PEACE symbol. For the creation of the first original logo, PEACE Inc. open a contest among boys and girls of the city or the county, offering cash back to the winner.

PEACE Inc.’s philosophy is to foster community engagement. By increasing people’s interest in PEACE Inc. and converting this interest into action, low income people would really have a role in shaping their own future; training them to increase their effectiveness. This type of effort was encouraged by the Office of Economic Opportunity (O.E.O) that challenged communities across the nation to develop innovative approaches to the existing poverty problems.

A good example of community participation is the creation of the logo, that resulted from a competition between scholar aged children. The winner drawing was submitted by a nine year old girl and depicted, with different ethnicities intertwined hands, the organization’s values of equality and community efforts. The image was the face of the agency until this year, when they decided to “improve” it; but this time, with marketing intentions in mind, the community didn’t take part on the design which resulted in four separated white hands.

The shift in the logo seems to be more than a merely change of image. Emma Johnston, one of the founders of the organization said that community, nowadays, does not get involved in neighborhood matters as they used to. I suspect that all the changes the organization “suffered” during the past forty-five years, are well condensed and depicted in this new logo. At the beginning, PEACE had three programs: weatherization, food and Head Start. There were twenty employees who were organized in two sites.

Nowadays, the organization has fifteen programs, 50 sites and 400 employees. PEACE headquarter was, at first, located at 117-119 Gifford St. The building ended up being torn down. They moved to Fayette St. and Geddes St. to a building that fosters a dynamic interaction with people of the community. Finally, in the nineties, the administrative offices moved to 217 South Salina St., where they still are, because they needed more space, they needed to expand. Ms. Emma Johnston, explains that she does not agree with this final move. She says that people who used to go to Fayette St. would not go downtown, “because they don’t like downtown; period” and she thinks that they became a Community Organization that is no longer close to the community. PEACE is a National Organization and as such, used to meet from all over the country, once every year to discuss things that happened in the community and the way they collaborate together to make it better. Lamentable, they dropped this routine, as well.

In 1969, the executive director of the Community Help Association, Rev. Forest A. Adams, urged that a closer look had to be taken at other antipoverty groups, he said: “A lot of money is being wasted (…) The money is not really reaching down to the poor people.” He blamed it to dis-proportioned salaries paid to qualified people to do unqualified jobs and, also, the overlap of projects by these organizations. His inculpatory statement was mainly directed to PEACE Inc. (the government anti-poverty program locally). PEACE funded Community Help Association for one year, but after a federal cutback in funds, sent questionnaires to neighborhood people asking them to rate the PEACE-funded organizations by importance (Community Help included), and the lowest-rated organization, were dropped. As Community Help could not find funds from other sources, the association was at risk of closing its door by the end of the year. Sometimes it is hard to draw a line between healthy assistance and what it could be a poisonous control over poverty. PEACE’s perpetuation in time turned a community-driven organization into a self-sustaining enterprise that is no longer true to its origin, and thus, not operating in the same ‘community engaged’ way. This type of organizations play an extremely important role within communities, they almost work as scaffolding for a new building. But, just as in construction, the goal should be to get into a point were these scaffolds are no longer needed and removed, because the building can stand by itself. Otherwise, if more supporting structure is needed, is probable that something from the equation is not working.

To leverage money and resources a very precise and strategic organization and interaction within existing programs is required. In those terms, it seems wise for PEACE to be the central government local-agency through which the Office of Economic Opportunity provides funds to other community efforts. But forcing to close local organizations, while the first one keeps growing and expanding, as was the described above case of Community Help Association, is, at the very least, questionable.

Because of this growth and expansion PEACE was forced to change its location, choosing downtown as their new scenario. More strategic for marketing reasons, but, as Ms. Emma said, less connected to the community. I wonder if this is a cause or an effect for people being less engaged with community matters. In any case, is unquestionable that it is part of the current equation. In a way, the logo redesign is accurately representing this new face of the organization. Not only through image, but also the way it was created; commissioned to a group of designers taking away the community participation component.

Click here for an expanded analysis of PEACE Inc. and its programs.

Original logo from 1968

“After 45 years, P.E.A.C.E., Inc. has made some changes to their logo. We have given it a more modern look. We have also decided it was time also remove all the periods from our name. You will now see our name as PEACE, Inc. Thank you Pinckney Hugo Group for creating our new logo.”

First Ten Years, 1969. PEACE Inc.

PS November 18th, 1968 – Executive board of the North Side Neighborhood Advisory Council formulating proposal to the board of directors of PEACE

Syracuse Herald Journal, August 28th, 1972. Youngster graduate from Head Start program at All Saints Episcopal Church

Maps of the five target areas of PEACE Inc. 1969

Maps of the five target areas of PEACE Inc. 1969

Maps of the five target areas of PEACE Inc. 1969

Maps of the five target areas of PEACE Inc. 1969

Maps of the five target areas of PEACE Inc. 1969

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