Opportunity Council

A bumpy bus ride can be an annoyance to some, but it’s a restriction to Bellingham resident Joyce Jarrell. Severe osteoarthritis in her spine made weekly trips to the grocery store a painful experience until she signed up for the Volunteer Chore Program.

Now, Jarrell has a volunteer come pick her up to go shopping and help carry the heavy bags. “It’s just a big relief,” she says. “It’s actually helped me get on a good schedule of cleaning my kitchen so when she drops off the groceries she can just put all the things away.” This Whatcom County service is designed so older adults, or individuals 18 and over with a disability, can receive assistance with chores while remaining independent in their home.

The chore program is one of many—too many to list—made available through the Opportunity Council. Associate director Sheri Emerson says this is a good example of what the Opportunity Council does, because it’s both a service for the community and a way to engage volunteers.

Based in Bellingham, the Opportunity Council is a private nonprofit that helps provide thousands of services across five counties. In 2017, they offered 11,185 services to help people find safe housing, and 3,196 services for building financial and job skills, according to their annual report. Basically, if there’s an aid program covering anything from kids’ education to accessing healthy food, there’s a good chance they have their hands in it.

The council also spent more than $28 million last year working with partner organizations to help people access resources like hot meals and health care. Lydia Place, a Bellingham nonprofit, partners with the Opportunity Council to provide support systems for families experiencing homelessness.

“Whatcom County is fortunate to have an organization as dedicated as Opportunity Council working on our behalf,”
Emily O’Connor, executive director of Lydia Place, says in an email. “The Opportunity Council is a crucial leader in our community’s effort to address poverty.”

The 1964 Economic Opportunity Act, enacted by President Lyndon B. Johnson, sparked the creation of community action agencies to provide local aid. The Opportunity Council started in 1965 as a small group of volunteers and staff using a borrowed typewriter in the Whatcom County Courthouse.

Today, the 53-year-old agency has three offices on Cornwall Avenue in Bellingham alone, and 282 part-time and full-time employees. It is one of 1,000 similar agencies nationwide.

Both the passionate employees and responsive volunteers make maintaining such a high number of programs possible, volunteer and event coordinator Summer Starr says. “People who work here are really service-orientated,” Starr says.

“They’re willing to do the work to make sure our community gets the services they need.”

Opportunity Council
1111 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham
360.734.5121 | oppco.org

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"Based in Bellingham, the Opportunity Council is a private nonprofit that helps provide thousands of services across five counties."