Lewis County Opportunities, Inc.  •  8265 State Route 812  •  Lowville, NY  13367
Telephone:  315-376-8202  •  Fax:  315-376-8421  •  Location and Business Hours  •   Contact Us

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Welcome to Lewis County Opportunities

 

by Scott Mathys, Chief Executive Officer

picture of Scott Mathys, CEO

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 bed nights.

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!

Scott    

 

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