Op-Ed

You know someone whose life is better because of ‘community action’

Then-Bellingham Mayor Mark Asmundson faces an eager classroom of children ready to tell tales of their favorite types of pets at Early Childhood Opportunities Northwest’s Magnolia Head Start Center in 2003.
Then-Bellingham Mayor Mark Asmundson faces an eager classroom of children ready to tell tales of their favorite types of pets at Early Childhood Opportunities Northwest’s Magnolia Head Start Center in 2003. The Bellingham Herald

I’m going to wager a bet that you didn’t know May was “Community Action Month.”

That’s our fault. While community action agencies like the Opportunity Council are working to build stronger, healthier communities for all people, all across the country, we rarely take time to tell people about it.

I’ll also wager a side bet that you know someone whose life is better because of “community action.”

Public spending on services… are investments that pay off.

Maybe you know a family that enrolled in the Head Start program to ensure their young children are ready for school and the parents are ready to support their children's learning.

Perhaps you recognize a veteran who was homeless and is now in stable housing thanks to help from our veterans benefit specialist, plus temporary financial assistance to pay for a deposit and a few months of rent assistance.

And I’ll bet you could find a family home near you that is safer and more energy efficient because it was weatherized or repaired.

When we work together to provide programs like these to help people in need, we all benefit. Groundbreaking research findings released this month showed states that spend more on social and public health programs compared to medical care results in residents who are healthier. Public spending on services like safe, affordable housing, school and work readiness, and high quality early childhood services are investments that pay off.

Last year, Opportunity Council celebrated its 50-year history of helping people achieve stability and equipping them to exit poverty. We don’t do this alone. As we begin a new half-century of service, our focus is on renewing our partnerships with local communities, volunteers and organizations to address the “social determinants of health” highlighted by this new study.

Through our partnerships, together with direct services and advocacy, Opportunity Council works hard to address our community needs. A growing body of research tells us this work improves the health of our communities:

The Weatherization Plus Health service increases energy efficiency, improves the overall condition of affordable homes, reduces the cost to heat homes and reduces asthma triggers in homes.

Homeless prevention and rapid re-housing assistance increases housing stability for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Increasing people’s housing stability results in a wide variety of positive physical and mental health outcomes.

Our Child Care Aware services provides families with information and referrals to licensed child care facilities and supports child care providers by offering education, resources and onsite consultation to improve the quality of their services. High-quality early childhood services offer enormous opportunities to reduce the need for costly health care interventions in later life.

Employment readiness and financial literacy educational services at Opportunity Council empower our clients to earn, save, invest and protect their income and assets. Helping families exit poverty reduces financial stress and its associated negative health outcomes.

These programs are just a few examples of how we can have a positive impact for our residents and for our communities.

As we celebrate “Community Action Month,” I want to thank our many partners and donors who help us in this work. Together we are making a difference and reducing the inequities that result in unfair and avoidable differences within our communities.

With your support, we will continue to make a difference in our community far into the future.

I’d bet on it.

Greg Winter is the Opportunity Council executive director. For more information about the Opportunity Council, go online at oppco.org.

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