Welcome to Lewis County Opportunities
by Scott Mathys, Chief Executive Officer
Our Agency Annual Report
by Scott Mathys, Chief Executive Officer
Lewis County Opportunities is a Community Action Agency dedicated to working
together with those in need. Our employees, Board members, and volunteers
use a compassionate and respectful approach to promote a higher quality of
life in our community. Many of our services help meet short-term or acute
problems, while other programs work with chronic issues. The services we
provide are determined by assessing the needs of the community and
identifying priority areas to focus our combined efforts.
Poverty is a complex social issue. A myriad of factors cause the existence
of poverty; including personal accountability, the number and type of
available jobs, and even the natural resources and infrastructure present in
our region that can foster business growth or stagnate it. I hope we can all
agree that we shouldn’t sit back and allow our community to degrade. We
don’t want to see our youth move far away to seek jobs. We don’t want to see
our housing stock deteriorate or be abandoned altogether. We don’t want to
see people struggle to get by in their working years only to be struggling
even further in retirement. Lewis County Opportunities is one of many
agencies trying to make an impact on the people in our community. We want to
be a helping hand for people struggling with challenges often out of their
control. How do we achieve that and how did we do in 2016?
In 2016 our annual budget was approximately $2.5 million. Those revenues
came from Federal and State grants, fee for service programs, foundations,
our own unrestricted revenues, and through contributions from the community.
Our “workforce” is comprised of 12 board members, 32 paid staff, and 139
volunteers. It took a combination of over 60,000 paid work hours and over
14,000 volunteer hours to provide our community services last year. That
represents a lot of linear and focused commitment toward our mission
priorities. Last year we said goodbye to some of our co-workers; a few
leaving for retirement and others who took their skills into other
employment pursuits. We miss them and their dedication. Those departures
brought in new faces to help fulfill our mission.
The following is a snapshot of our services in 2016. Please look beyond the
numbers as raw data, but in actuality the faces in our community who needed
help. You see these faces every day but may not know their internal
struggle. So replace the raw numbers of this progress summary with the
vibrant faces of men, women, and children; your neighbors and friends.
In 2016, Opportunities helped provide community programs to 5,794 people (an
increase of 818 people over 2015). Poverty isn’t gender-specific, but
trending does tend to show an impact on females more than males; evident by
females making up 57% of our consumer base. To go a step further, one out of
every four families we served in 2016 was a female led single parent
household. Poverty doesn’t discriminate by age and is felt throughout the
entire age spectrum; evident by seniors making up 16% of our consumer base
and children making up 36%. In addition, last year 24% of our consumer base
reported some level of disability. Moving away from the general
demographics, below are broad categorical direct service breakdowns:
Food Security: In 2016, food pantries located in New Bremen,
Harrisville, Port Leyden, Croghan, and Copenhagen provided the equivalent of
64,785 meals to families. The buying power of the
Food Bank of Central
New York is essential in this effort. Likewise, the
Northern New York Community
Foundation is vital to the process by providing matching funds as
well as additional contributions to the food pantries during the year. In
addition, United Way
of Northern New York comes through each year with an annual food drive.
Many other groups in our community help the pantries out with food drives as
well. We are appreciative of all those efforts!
Shelter: Safe and affordable housing can be a challenge for families
in poverty. In 2016 Opportunities helped over 1,300 families in Jefferson
and Lewis counties with rental assistance through Housing Choice Vouchers.
That assistance totaled $8.2 million in landlord subsidies between both
counties. Even if a family has a place to stay, the housing costs don’t end
there. Runaway heating bills can erode the monthly budget drastically.
Because of that, Opportunities provides weatherization services to help make
homes more energy efficient. In 2016, over 50 homes were weatherized. This
included replacing windows, furnace clean and tunes, and adding insulation
in walls, attics, and crawl spaces. Funds for these services come from a
grant through NYS Homes and Community Renewal. Other energy saving measures
are performed through a program called EmPower; with the agency completing
23 homes this past year. There are some members of our community who have no
place at all to call home. We have a Homeless Apartment in partnership with
the Lewis County Department of Social Services to help with this concern.
Last year that apartment temporarily housed 45 people for a collective 751
Safety: People should not have to live in fear of physical, mental,
financial, or sexual abuse. Unfortunately, such problems do exist even in
Lewis County despite its reputation as a safe place to live and raise a
family. To address victimization related to domestic violence, sexual
assault, stalking, and other crimes, Opportunities has a Victim Services
Department, which served 166 people in 2016. Under this program, the agency
operates a safe dwelling where families could begin the next chapter in
their lives; with 144 protected nights utilized during 2016. That number
alone should be eye opening to some. Other services include operating a 24/7
crisis hotline, providing many counseling services, completing orders of
protection, and assisting victims with restitution claims. The program also
maintained a healthy presence in several local school districts with “safe
dates” and “expect respect” education. Also, 2016 was the start of a joint
satellite Child Advocacy Center project spearheaded by our neighboring
cohort-agency, the Victims Assistance Center of Jefferson County. Our Victim
Services programs are funded through the NYS Office of Victim Services,
Department of Health, Office of Children and Family Services, Division of
Criminal Justice Services, NYS Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the Lewis
County Department of Social Services, and private foundations. If you or
someone you know has been a victim and needs help, please contact us at our
crisis hotline number, 315-376-HELP, which is available 24 hours a day.
Transportation: Getting to and from work is as important as having a
job in the first place; especially in a rural county. Sometimes car repairs
can become costly enough to jeopardize maintaining a job. Therefore,
Opportunities has programs to aid with paying for those costly repairs. In
2016, the agency helped pay for 18 vehicle repairs and 22 gas cards. These
services were made possible by the United Way of Northern New York and a
Community Services Block Grant. In addition to a reliable vehicle, having
safe and proper fitting car seats should not be something reserved only to
families able to afford them. Because of that, Opportunities has certified
Car Seat Technicians who in 2016 provided 75 car seats to help our littlest
county residents. This program was supported by the Governor's Traffic and
Safety Committee and CSBG grants.
Financial Security: We have routinely been asked about money
management tips and classes to help build a better relationship with money.
In 2016 the agency began a Financial Empowerment Program. We hope to see
that grow in 2017 with people eager to take control of their money instead
of being controlled by financial pressures. In addition, the agency
continued to provide Rep Payee services for 24 people. In 2016 the agency
hosted the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA). Unfortunately,
this will not be offered in early 2017 due to not having enough volunteers
to operate the program. We hope to have a few more volunteers step forward
and complete the training so that this program is back in 2018. If
interested in what it takes to be a VITA volunteer, please call us!
These are but a few of our many services. An exhaustive list would be
impractical to provide. The most important thing to remember is that if you
or someone you know could benefit from our assistance or want to know more
about our other services, please “like” our Facebook page, call us at
315-376-8202, or explore the services throughout this website. We are
here to help.
Lewis County Opportunities has served our community for over 50 years. In
2016 we conducted another community assessment to determine unmet needs,
spotlight areas that we can improve upon, and verify the appropriateness of
current programs. That process will culminate in the near future with a
Community Assessment report (which will be posted to our website); which
will then lead to the development of our new Strategic Plan in 2017.
In closing, we thank our employees, board members, volunteers, and the
community for helping with our mission. Without the combined efforts of
everyone, Opportunities wouldn’t be able to make such an impact to our
community. Thank you!
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