Pinellas Opportunity Council: Empowering Individuals and Creating Self-Sufficiency

by | Aug 12, 2022 | Employment, Health & Human Services | 0 comments

Providing economic relief and financial literacy education for 54 years, the Pinellas Opportunity Council is critical and foundational in its support for our community.

Following the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, the Pinellas Opportunity Council was established in 1968 to facilitate financial security and the general welfare of Pinellas County. Since its founding, the Council has grown substantially. It now offers six different programs and mobilizes millions of dollars into the local community.

Over the years, the Council has also helped establish other organizations dedicated to addressing the needs of low-income or elderly citizens, such as Gulf Coast Legal Services, St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corporation, and the Pinellas County Urban League.

The Council’s programs vary greatly in nature, allowing it to address the community’s most pressing needs and solve issues of financial insecurity from the roots up. As such, two of the programs provide direct relief to individuals in emergencies: the Emergency Services Program and the Emergency Home Energy Assistance Program. Three programs aim to provide financial and employment education to young people and families: the Youth Development Program, the Family Development Program, and the Getting Ahead Program.

Tools for Success and Stability

Pattye Sawyer, executive director at Pinellas Opportunity Council, explains the importance of focusing on education and creating financial literacy. Rather than encouraging individuals to rely on the Council, they want to promote self-sufficiency. “Generational wealth is not just financial. It’s also educational. It’s also emotional,” says Pattye.

While the Council does offer direct relief to eligible citizens, it really wants to give individuals the tools needed to achieve success and stability. Pattye explains that by doing so, “individuals aren’t counting on us every month; rather, they are acquiring the skills they need.” These skills include building credit, balancing a checkbook, and creating plans for the future. Pattye notes that through education, “people can become self-sufficient and pass that knowledge on to their children.”

As the Pinellas Opportunity Council has become absolutely integral in lifting community members out of poverty, Pattye explains that the Council’s success is truly owed to the staff’s dedication. POC now has 21 staff members, many of whom have been with the Council for over 15 years — the current longest-standing staff member has been there for 42 years.

The staff members’ passion and commitment and the executive team’s leadership help the Council to provide the best possible support to the community. According to Pattye, it’s all about “being creative, and looking outside of traditional partnerships and expanding the reach of the Council to be a greater benefit to the community.” The executive team is constantly listening to the community’s needs and adapting programs and services to address those needs adequately.

Instrumental Partnerships

Of course, the Council could not be successful without local support and community partnerships. Pattye notes that one of the most significant ways the Council has grown is in the “number and diverse types of partnerships that have been established over the years.” Making an individual whole is not just about economic security, so partnering with other organizations that can benefit individuals is instrumental in the Council’s growth.

The partnership with Pinellas Community Foundation has been integral to the Pinellas Opportunity Council for many years. Pattye describes the relationship as fruitful and beneficial for both organizations. In addition to providing funding that the Council has the flexibility to use as best needed, she appreciates PCF’s responsiveness and is happy to have developed strong relationships with the staff.

As the housing crisis in Pinellas County continues to escalate, Pattye reminds us that funding is always the Council’s biggest challenge. Often, the funding it receives isn’t enough to cover everything — especially the administrative costs of running the programs. While physical volunteering opportunities are currently limited, as the Council offices operate on socially distanced schedules, people can always support the Council through donations.

Pattye also encourages people to continue to spread the word about the organization to help broaden its audience. Sharing on social media, following the Council online, and posting links to its website are great ways to get the word out. In every sense, “building a well-rounded community starts with families.”

Learn More About PCF’s Nonprofit Partners

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