VIEWPOINT | Public services are an investment that pay off

By Greg Winter

I’ll wager 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 the 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.” Maybe your neighbor was able to stay warm last winter thanks to an energy assistance grant. You may know someone who didn’t lose their housing because of emergency rental assistance. And I’ll bet you could find a family whose home 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 show 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, the 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, the Opportunity Council works hard to address our community’s 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, possibly due a variety of physical and mental health disorders.

• Our Child Care Aware services provide 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.

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 executive director for the Opportunity Council.