FULTON, NY – Oswego County Opportunities has a proud history of helping thousands of people all across the county.
However, instead of resting on its laurels, the agency is looking for ways to improve its services and find the required funding, despite the economic quagmire that is impinging on its services.
This year, Oswego County Opportunities celebrates its 45 anniversary. As part of that celebration OCO has begun a new fundraising campaign, “OCO Is On A Roll.” The first stage of the campaign, “Change for Change” is under way.
In preparation for OCO’s annual bowl-a-fun, staff members decorated plastic bowling pins that uniquely represented their respective departments. At the reception for last year’s sponsors, attendees voted for their favorite bowling pin. The top vote-getter was the Pink Guardian Angel Pin submitted by the Cancer Services Program Partnership.
It, along with the others, was on display Tuesday afternoon at the Senior Dinning and Activities Center in the Fulton Municipal Building where OCO celebrated its anniversary with more than three dozen of its staff and supporters and luncheon guests.
Oswego County Opportunities was incorporated in 1966 and was designated as Oswego County’s Community Action Agency as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty.
“In 1965, the Board of Supervisors, now known as the County Legislature, passed legislation to authorize the formation of an agency that was to be a conduit for anti-poverty funding that was coming from the federal government to Oswego County,” explained Diane Cooper-Currier, OCO’s executive director. “And, born out of that legislation at the county level came Oswego County Opportunities in 1966. So, 45 years ago, to this exact day, March 15, 1966, OCO was chartered.”
Its mission was to alleviate the impact of poverty in the community.
In the beginning, there was some confusion about how to actually obtain the federal funds, the director said. Even though the agency was incorporated, there was very little activity happening.
Starting with grant funds in the 1970, OCO began providing daycare, family planning, health care and general support services for the county’s migrant population.
“In 1971, we received our first grant and that was $60,000 for a family planning service,” Cooper-Currier said. They still operate the program today and receive about $600,000 for it now.
OCO went on to acquire Head Start funding. From there the agency continued to grow and to provide multiple, varied services to address the needs of those living in poverty.
“Forty-five years later, we are still here, fighting the fight against poverty and more,” Cooper-Currier said.”
In 2010, OCO was the sixth largest private employer in Oswego County with a workforce of more than 656 employees and 1,200 volunteers.
The agency is funded by federal, state and local grants and contracts as well as fee for service revenues.
Today, OCO provides more than 50 programs in more than 80 locations throughout the county and serves 28,000 individuals each year through educational, health, nutrition, crisis intervention, housing and transportation programs.
OCO’s mission is “to build partnerships that improve the quality of life and create successful communities.”
OCO is in the midst of an organizational redesign.
In 2009-2010, the agency integrated its seven divisions into four departments, whose directors oversee clusters of programs with closely aligned goals and client populations.
They are: Health and Nutritional Services, Community Support Services, Residential Services and Corporate Services.
“We are already starting to function more efficiently thanks to a new structure that makes more sense to our staff and the people we serve,” the director said.
“In 2011 we will be moving closer to our goal of ‘any door access.’ This means that whether a client contacts OCO in person, online or over the phone their care is coordinated effectively and information is shared appropriately among any and all OCO programs they are accessing,” she added.
OCO is excited about the On A Roll campaign and is looking forward to a successful Change for Change campaign, Cooper-Currier said.
Change for Change not only helps to raise funds for OCO programs, it also raises awareness of the bowl-a-fun – Strike Back Against Poverty, which will be held April 2 at Lakeview Lanes in Fulton, she said.
“We are also taking positive steps to maintain a fiscally strong and responsible presence. Our Golden Opportunities raffle is helping build an endowment fund for the future. Our bowl-a-fun and annual campaign continue to generate support for our programs. We are actively seeking and competing for federal and state grant monies and partnering with other agencies to eliminate overlap or duplication of services,” she continued.
The Pink Guardian Angel is visiting various OCO sites throughout Oswego County to remind community members about OCO’s 10th annual bowl-a-fun and the announcement of the winner of the Golden Opportunities raffle that will take place on April 2 at Lakeview Lanes.
“On the occasion of our 45th birthday, we pause to celebrate the lives that have been changed, the communities that have been improved and the partnerships that have been forged since OCO’s humble beginnings in the mid-1960s. We are grateful for the opportunity to serve and we are thankful for your support,” the director said.
Cooper-Currier thanked the participants and staff at the Fulton Seniors Dining and Activities Center in the Municipal Building for letting them observe the special occasion with them.
They were decked out with party hats and noise makers to add to the festive occasion.
Brittney Jerred from Assemblyman Will Barclay’s office presented Cooper-Currier with a large framed proclamation of appreciation honoring OCO for its 45 years of service to the community.
Former OCO board member Barry Leemann, chair of the Oswego County Legislature, also recognized the organization.
“OCO is absolutely fantastic. I don’t have to tell the people in this room, you know that, that’s why you’re here. There should be more people here because I’m telling you OCO performs so many functions and does so many things, helps so many people in Oswego County,” the chairman said.
The county and its resident in so many cases need help and OCO is “the helping agency,” he said. “They help the seniors, they help the youth, everybody. I can’t remember all the things they do because they do so many things!”
“We need to support OCO; OCO supports us,” Leemann added.
The county is a very strong partner with the agency, Cooper-Currier said.
Fulton has also been a strong advocate for OCO.
Mayor Ron Woodward congratulated OCO “on 45 years of success.”
“I am very proud and grateful for the senior nutrition center we have here. It not only feeds people but it gives them the chance to develop relationships,” he said.
He also recognized the Meals on Wheels program. The program delivers around 600 meals a day, all over the county, Cooper-Currier added.
“Diane, you’re doing a great job. These days and in the days to come, we’re going to need you more than we ever did,” the mayor said.
OCO is governed by a 21-member board of directors.
“It’s about a team of people attempting to do good in this community and improve the quality of life,” Cooper-Currier said. “Our board members lead that charge along with our employees and volunteers.”
Board vice president Joe Caruana said working with OCO “is probably one of the most important things I’ve ever done. I appreciate the fact that we can serve so many people.”
In 1971, they began programs. By 1974 they had about 20 employees and maybe about $100,000 annual budget.
That grew in 1995 to about 400 employees. Today OCO is the sixth largest private employer in Oswego County with more than 670 and a $30 million annual budget, serving more than 28,000 people.
“We are virtually in every community in Oswego County,” Cooper-Currier pointed out.
From the start, OCO sought to renew the life of its own community, hand in hand with those who were the tired, the poor, the discouraged and the disadvantaged.
“Those words are still true today. We continue to work hand in hand and partner with people in this community to meet the needs of individuals who require a helping hand, some type of support. We have had a positive impact on shaping the lives of people in this community,” the director said.
The reality is – the war isn’t over, she noted.
“And, as we speak, we have new wars going on particularly related to funding being cut from programs such as what OCO has to offer. When funding is cut or reduced it doesn’t eliminate the needs of people in this community. Those needs continue and prosper, if you will, despite what happens at the state or federal level related to funding,” she said. “So, it is my vision and the vision of this agency that OCO continues for another 45 years, achieving the same positive results that we’ve experienced over the past 45 years – despite those resource challenges.”
OCO is looking to develop a strategic funding campaign that will allow them to bring in other funds that will help the agency continue top provide services to the people in the community despite the challenges that we have at the state and federal level in terms of financing.
They will focus on sustainability and continuing the success that it has had in the past.
“I’d like you to join me in the new war, the new venture and take a part in that venture of growing our resources so that we can continue to do the good work we have done over the 45 year history of this organization,” Cooper-Currier said.
For more information, call 598-4717 or visit www.oco.org