Serving area for 50 years

Published 9:22 am Monday, July 6, 2015

In 1965, a group of local citizens concerned for the welfare of low-income residents in Lawrence County banded together to form the Ironton-Lawrence Community Action Organization (CAO). The CAO “aims to provide high quality services to eligible residents, on a non-discriminatory basis, in a dignified manner, that will promote family values.”

The CAO relies upon “30-40 funding sources” to achieve its goals, said D.R. Gossett, executive director of the CAO. Gossett said local community organizations as well as sponsors on the state and federal level provide financial support for the CAO.

Originally based out of Gateway Baptist Church in Ironton, the CAO outgrew the facility as it continued to offer new programs. Today the CAO offers its services through multiple offices in Ironton and around Lawrence County.

Although the Ironton-Lawrence CAO now employs several hundred people, the organization wasn’t always thriving. The community didn’t immediately accept the CAO. While the CAO faced challenges at the start, the agency opened its first Head Start program during the 1960s. Providing childcare and educational opportunities to local children, Head Start programs continue to be a major part of the CAO.

Gossett said just over 1,000 children come through Head Start programs every year and the division is the largest by staffing for the organization.

When former CAO executive director Keith Molihan joined the organization in 1970, the program began to move forward. Molihan introduced medical centers to the community and advocated for the implementation of the Women, Infants, and Children’s (WIC) program.

Thanks to a partnership with St. Mary’s Medical Center, the CAO has expanded the reach of the medical care centers first introduced through Molihan’s work. The CAO Family Medical Centers offer full-service medical care for local patients and “serve thousands of primary care patients a year,” said CAO officials.

During the 1980s, there was a boom in services provided by the CAO. The organization added senior citizens centers, began efforts to keep the community clean, and added additional medical facilities.

Today the CAO offers 12 types of programs including the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), services for senior citizens, and public transportation. The CAO services are a way to further the organization’s “dedication to promote decent housing, health care, job training, education and employment opportunities” in the community according to the mission statement.

As the CAO celebrates 50 years, Gossett said the organization’s success is thanks to dedicated individuals who work for the CAO and want to see a positive change happen in the community.

“It’s all about the people you have,” said Gossett. Gossett credits “a lot of good people” with making the CAO what it is today.

Partnering with the community has also allowed the CAO to grow, said Gossett.

While working for the CAO is a full-time job for Gossett, he sees it as an opportunity to invest in the lives of people in the community and help people find success. Gossett said he enjoys the chance his job provides “to see people connected with better jobs.”

“It’s exciting work, I have to say,” said Gossett. “To be part of the future is gratifying.

“It’s always fun to come to work knowing that right around the corner could be a new chapter.”

The CAO is located at 305 N. Fifth St. in Ironton. For more information about the CAO, visit them on the web at


Editor’s note: This is the first of a multipart series that will feature the Ironton-Lawrence Community Action Organization and its programs.