A look at the Opportunity Council after 50 years | Guest Column

By Dave Finet

Opportunity Council Editor

In our fast-paced world of constant change and new challenges around every corner, it is easy to overlook the constant pillars in our community.

For the past 50 years, Opportunity Council has been one of those pillars in Island, San Juan and Whatcom Counties, providing resources and services to people in need.

The Opportunity Council was organized in November 1965 by a group of citizens and recognized by the federal government as the local “community action” agency.

Agencies like this started all across the country when President Lyndon B. Johnson declared unconditional “war on poverty.” He outlined initiatives aimed at addressing poverty, including establishing local community action agencies.

It’s easy to romanticize that President Johnson’s actions flipped a switch and the war on poverty started here and across the county. But the driving force was really a groundswell of concern and caring by community leaders to do right by their fellow citizens by addressing poverty and inequities.

So where are we after 50 years? Has the war been won? In 1964 about 19 percent of the total population was living in poverty in the U.S. Today, about 15 percent are living in poverty. While that number is decreasing, it is still too high. Much too high. Each percentage point represents millions of lives. We must remain steadfast in our work with families and individuals who are struggling to meet their basic needs daily.

We also focus on systemic change. We’re making a difference through supportive early learning programs, child care resources, and working with families to address issues of generational poverty. We know that sometimes the long-term answers rest in changing policies and perceptions that maintain inequities in our society.

We also know we don’t do any of this work alone.

Our success, and the success of all community action programs, is grounded in community involvement, people caring and individuals willing to take action. Our partner agencies, state and local government, businesses, schools, supporter, utility companies, many, many individuals create a collective energy that drives change.

Today, the ongoing challenge is adapting to the changing needs in our communities. Many families have been affected by a slow economic recovery, the price and availability of housing, and a changing job market. Each community and neighborhood has its own challenges.

We’re up for the challenge.

Together with our community partners, we’ll continue to provide people a hand up out of poverty. We will strive to help people be more self-reliant and adaptable to the changes around them. And we’ll continue to care for our senior neighbors and people with disabilities who need our help.

With 50 years in the rear view mirror, we’d like to take this opportunity to thank you — our community partners — who help do this work.

We can be proud of the progress that has been made, what we have learned and how we have helped change people’s lives and our community for the better.