OCO Celebrates Collaborative Approach To Fighting Poverty

FULTON, NY – May is National Community Action Month, and Oswego County’s Community Action Agency is taking this opportunity to share some facts and celebrate some successes.

Oswego County Opportunities is one of more than 1,100 Community Action Agencies nationwide that help more than 13 million low-income Americans achieve economic security each year.

OCO and Community Action Agencies across the country celebrate their history of partnering with other organizations to address poverty related issues in their communities.

Since their inception in 1964, CAAs have established and maintained a variety of partnerships with other community-based organizations.

And during these current difficult economic times, partnerships have been the key for CAAs to keep helping low-income individuals weather the storm.

“It is important to remember that poverty is a lack of resources and not just a lack of financial means,” noted Diane Cooper-Currier, OCO’s executive director. “People can be impoverished financially, but also in many other areas such as health, mental health, education, employment, and social relationships. And, that is why, as an anti-poverty agency, OCO has such diverse programs and not just programs that focus on low-income as it relates to poverty.”

“We have been able to expand our services for Oswego County’s low-income residents by forming partnerships with various individuals and groups in our community,” she continued. “This has especially been the case recently during the country’s economic downturn. All of the advocates and supporters here understand that those struggling with poverty are the ones hit hardest during a recession and we have all worked together to ensure they always have access to critical programs and services.”

Two of the most recent accomplishments involve food and housing.

In January 2010 OCO opened a new kitchen facility in the village of Mexico to prepare and deliver or serve more than 19,000 meals each month to the county’s senior citizens.

In late 2009 the agency launched a $1.9 million grant program to help the homeless or nearly homeless.

Helping the Homeless and Those on the Brink

In the first six months of this 22-month program, 206 total households have been served (548 individuals) and more than $311,000 in grant funds has been distributed back into the community through rental assistance, security deposits, and utility payments.

“These funds have made it possible to assist consumers that were either homeless, or on the brink of homelessness,” Cooper-Currier said. “We have assisted consumers in stabilizing their situation and planning for their future.”

OCO’s community partners in this homeless prevention and homeless housing program are Oswego County Catholic Charities, Oswego Salvation Army, Oswego Housing Development Council, and Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York, Inc.

The grant is being funded by federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act monies.

Cooper-Currier expects the need to continue to reflect the nation’s economic crisis.

“Without these funds, we would have found more people without housing and without resources to pay for basic needs. Eventually these factors would have caused more consumers to end up in the system or perhaps even resorting to violence, criminal activity, or other negative behaviors,” she noted.

Striving to end Hunger among Senior Citizens

Another growing need in Oswego County and across the nation is providing services for the increasing population of older adults.

By 2015 the number of senior citizens in the county is expected to number more than 25,000.

Because Oswego County has higher than average levels of poverty and chronic disease, as well as isolation due to its extensive rural areas, the need for healthy, balanced meals will increase.

The state-of-the-art kitchen, located on Scenic Avenue (Route 3) in Mexico, currently produces meals for OCO’s eight community dining centers as well as for homebound seniors throughout the county.

Senior Nutrition Services will be positioned to expand meal production to meet this growing need.

“We are preparing for future needs while striving to end hunger and malnutrition right now among Oswego County’s older adults,” said Cooper-Currier. “For less than $10 a day, adults 60 and older can get two nutritionally balanced meals delivered to their door, or they can visit one of our dining centers for a hot meal and a few hours of socialization. And if they can’t afford to pay, that’s OK.”

The national office of the Community Action Partnership designates May as National Community Action Month to recognize the work of Community Action Agencies that are fighting poverty on the local level.

Each year, Community Action Agencies help 13 million Americans escape poverty and achieve financial stability through programs such as Head Start, job training, financial planning, and housing.

OCO is Oswego County’s seventh largest employer, with 670 employees and an annual budget of $30 million.

OCO provides more than 50 programs and services in approximately 80 locations around the county.

More information about OCO is available at www.oco.org or by calling 315-598-4717.