The community action agency of the counties of Island, Skagit, Snohomish, San Juan and Whatcom is Opportunity Council. A number of financial assistance programs are administered along with case management services. The goal of the agency is on addressing a crisis by offering financial support and also providing long term, self-sufficiency.
Food programs can help area residents with obtaining sufficient amounts of groceries. In fact, this is a priority at the Opportunity Council. The non-profit's Basic Food Outreach Program assists families and individuals across Skagit and other counties with obtaining boxes of groceries, SNAP food stamps, and more through the provision of information and support services.
The community action agency will also serve freshly prepared, hot meals at a couple different locations in the service area, including St. Paul’s Old Parish Hall, 2117 Walnut Street in Bellingham as well as at Faith Lutheran Church, 2750 McLeod Road in Bellingham.
Emergency funds for rent or utility bills is also offered. Most of this aid is provided from the Whatcom Homeless Service Center (WHSC), which is also located at the Opportunity Council. Together the agencies offers an array of services to assist families with avoiding homelessness and they work to stop evictions.
The approach the Service Center takes is one of housing-first, such as providing no interest loans and other forms of financial assistance with paying rent. Funding for the Whatcom Homeless Program is provided by the the State of Washington, Department of Commerce, Whatcom County, the City of Bellingham, and other public grants and even private sources. Homeless prevention, re-housing, and support services are available through the Family Resource Centers on Lopez, San Juan, and Orcas Islands.
The Opportunity Council’s Homeless Housing Program operates facilities throughout the service area as well, including Snohomish and San Juan County. The non-profit will also offer low income housing and support to accommodate homeless individuals and families. This will include Short-term shelter, transitional (six months to two years), and permanent housing, all of which are available through the Whatcom and Island County centers.
The Supportive Services for Veteran Families Solution provides housing and other case management resources to homeless or at-risk veterans of active military, naval, or air service, and their families. They can also get help in applying for VA benefits.
Low income energy bill assistance provides financial support with utility and heating bills. This is for eligible working poor and struggling households who are having difficulty paying their home energy bills. It is often combined with the federal Weatherization Program, which provides free conservation measures to the homes of qualifying families. The purpose of the program is to conserve energy and make utility bills more manageable for those in need. Please call your local Opportunity Council office to make an appointment to discuss eligibility.
Financial and Employment Support Programs from the Opportunity Council includes a number of resources and services to assist clients with gaining employment and managing their finances, with the goal of supporting their efforts toward self-sufficiency.
FLARE, or the Financial Literacy and Renter Education Program, provides individuals the skills, knowledge, and tools necessary for effective money management. Topics covered in the course include wise spending, saving and budgeting. The program also includes coverage of the basic skills on renting apartments competently and successfully. Classes are open to the community.
Employment Case Management offers group classes and one-on-one support services for Housing Program participants. Topics covered in class include cover letter writing, interview skills, resume creation, effective communication, cultural awareness, and job search skills using the computer lab. One component is from the State of Washington and their sponsored WorkFirst Employment Program, which provide skill development and employment training as an avenue to permanent jobs for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) recipients.
The Opportunity Council is also the lead agency for a community collaboration that supports financial self-sufficiency through education and advocacy, and this is known as Whatcom Asset Building Coalition. Many groups in Snohomish and other counties work together to alleviate poverty in the region as part of this.
The non-profit community action agency also partners with Springwire to offer Community Voice Mail, a service that is ideal for low-income area residents who are looking for employment. Clients, including those from San Juan or Whatcom County, are furnished with a personal, seven-digit, local phone number and voice mail box for business usage.
The Opportunity Council operates several Child and Family-Oriented Services that are targeted toward area children and families, including those described here:
A resource known as Early Support for Infants and Toddlers serves families with children from birth to age three with developmental delays or disabilities. Emphasis of the teachers and staff that participate is placed on maximizing each child’s growth and development. For information and referral to ESIT, please call 360-734-8396.
Early Head Start serves those facing poverty and the low income. There is help for pregnant women, children ages birth to age three, and their families. Services available at local classrooms include health and nutrition services, prenatal education, family development support, and home visits in Snohomish focused on quality early education and child development.
Transportation can be arranged for Current Lummi Island residents. Anyone in need of assistance with rides to an appointment are encouraged to contact the Opportunity Council in regard to obtaining discounted ferry tickets. This is a needs-based program based on property tax exemptions determined by the Whatcom County Assessor’s Office, or on household income. There are two ways to qualify for the needs-based ferry tickets, and they include income based reduced fare passes as well as property tax exemption reduced fare passes, which are provided through the Whatcom County Assessor’s Office.
EWRRC, or the East Whatcom Regional Resource Center, offers residents of the region general information and resources for the Maple Falls community. This is a key resources offered, and it is located at 8251 Kendall Road in Maple Falls, or call 360-599-3944 for details.
The local Community Resource Centers connect people with services and assistance programs, including both government and public resources. The Opportunity Council will direct people to resources that are appropriate for each family’s unique set of needs. Support services help households with meeting basic needs, including housing, rent, and food. Housing services include the provision of referrals for housing and rental assistance.
The main locations of their offices, or Community Resource Center locations, are below.
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