OSWEGO COUNTY – Oswego County Opportunities celebrates 50 years of service to the Oswego County community, providing 22,000 people each year with more than 60 different programs aimed at serving their mission to, “Inspire partnerships and provide services that empower people, support communities, and change lives.”
Currently, OCO is within the top six private employers in Oswego County with more than 650 employees and 1,200 volunteers working to provide more than 60 programs for educational services, crisis and development services, health and nutritional services, transportation services, and residential services with more than 80 sites throughout the county.
The evolution over 50 years has shown exponential growth and need for services, as exemplified by the rapid advancement of programs offered, sites available to deliver programs and employees needed to maintain adequate services.
Diane Cooper-Currier has worked with OCO for 32 years, spending the last eight years in her position as executive director.
She credits the determination, grit and pure hard work by all of OCO’s staff as the success to their ever evolving growth.
“There is such great staff here, all committed to making the community great for everyone. It’s about being creative with funding and opportunities to figure out what the community needs are and finding ways to fill the gaps,” said Cooper-Currier.
But, the start of OCO was not so fast paced – even 8 years after OCO was chartered, it wielded only 20 employees in 1974.
OCO officially got its humble start in 1966, two years after the U.S. Congress passed the Economic Opportunity Act in attempt to battle poverty on national, state and local levels.
After the act passed in 1964, the Office of Economic Opportunity then launched an initiative to address poverty on the local level by developing community action agencies all throughout the country as part of a larger national strategy to end poverty.
Resolution Number 46 passed in June of 1965 by the former County Board of Supervisors, now known as Oswego County Legislature, allowed the establishment of a local agency to receive money from the OEO to create and implement poverty opposed assistance programs.
Thus, in March of 1966 Oswego County Opportunities was chartered.
OCO did not receive its first grant until June of 1971, but since that day has made tremendous strides in providing dire services to the community while being solely funding by federal and state money, fee for service revenue and local support.
To this day, OCO stands by its mission even in regards to funding, ensuring that more than 90 cents for every dollar received goes directly to program services.
With this money, OCO provides more than 60 services to the Oswego County community to help in nearly all aspects of life. However, many people are unaware that OCO is the driving force behind these programs.
To combat this, OCO has started a new campaign this year, “Did You Know? It’s OCO” which aims to build a better public association between OCO and the number of programs they provide.
Some of the well known OCO programs include Head Start a no-cost pre-school based on income eligibility, public transportation programs that service rural areas and feed into Centro bus routes such as the public bus service Call-N-Ride, the nutritional program Meals on Wheels that delivers two meals a day to more than 600 home bound people throughout the county, and the housing programs for special needs population that houses more than 160 people a year that experience homelessness due to mental disability, chemical addiction or any number of situations.
Some of the lesser known services OCO provides include the Options program, a program that has been around for a long time but many are unaware it is available to them. Options is for any woman of child bearing age that is pregnant or considering becoming a parent. It seeks to answer questions pregnant women may be inquiring to such as health care options or next steps to take once they become pregnant.
OCO also provides a Day Habilitation Program in which developmentally disabled adults that can’t work or live home with their parents are able to experience socialization in a stimulating environment. The dayhab focuses on community involvement, social interaction and job development all while providing a fun, stress-free environment.
The Job Training Program through OCO allows recipients to work on different skills or access tutoring to enhance their skills. Consumers can work in a real working environment at the job training site, Backstreet Books on Oneida Street in Fulton where they are able to build job skills by completing tasks involving paperwork, computer work, customer service, stocking and restocking, advertising, and more.
These more than 60 programs provided through OCO reach more than 22,000 people throughout the county over the course of a year.
160 of these people have found permanent housing through OCO, more than 1,100 phone calls were received in the last year on OCO hot lines for runaways, victims of domestic violence or any other crisis, and more than 600 children were granted the ability to be educated through OCO pre-school and after school programs.
While OCO is an anti-poverty agency, their programs are not aimed specifically at financially impoverished families or individuals. Each program has different eligibility requirements.
The Meals on Wheels program is eligible for free to any person over the age of 60. However, the program is still offered to those who are home bound and under the age of 60 for a fee.
There is a cancer screening program that provides free screening for anyone who meets the criteria of being under insured for such services.
“We are an anti-poverty agency, but we are not just focused on poverty as being people without money. Poverty is anyone who is lacking anything- health care, social support, mental health, anything but not just being economically poor,” said Cooper-Currier.
With that being said, Cooper-Currier does realize that financial poverty is a predominant issue throughout Oswego County.
“Finances are a huge problem. 25% of kids live in poverty while their parents are barely getting by and living paycheck to paycheck. That is why we aim to build assets for people. When people have assets or something they’re able to offer, that’s when people do better. I feel more secure when I have money in the bank, I feel good when I own my house or car. With more self confidence, people have more of a desire to go out and do better, get a better job, get more education or training. That’s why the programs we have and our new programs will help people at building tangible and non-tangible assets,” explained Cooper-Currier.
Each year, OCO host’s a Bowl-A-Fun fundraiser open to the public to help earn money for their services.
This year, the usual sequence of events will be a little different as OCO celebrates its 50th anniversary with a party during the Bowl-A-Fun.
Planned for April 9 at Lakeview Lanes, 20 teams of 5 people sponsored by local businesses will compete in a friendly bowling session starting at noon.
At 2:30, the bowling will wind down and a party will begin to celebrate OCO’s anniversary with cake, pizza, soda, live entertainment by an Elvis impersonator and The Camillus Connection, outdoor activities including putt-putt golf and a bounce house (weather permitting) and 50/50 raffles.
The event is open to the public but one ticket per individual will be needed to enter.
Anyone can pick up a ticket for free at a variety of OCO locations including the Main Office in Fulton located at 239 Oneida St., the Midtown Office in Oswego located at 75 E. First St. and the Mexico Office located at 5871 Scenic Ave.
All tickets must be picked up by April 6.
Cooper-Currier suggests anyone interested in learning more about OCO provided services to check their website at OCO.org and anyone looking to learn more about eligibility and applying for services to call their main office at (315) 598-4717 (press 0.)