By Betsy Natter
It may seem that all is well among the scenic beauty of Bucks County, but unseen and possibly unknown to many, some forty thousand plus individuals live in poverty, nearly one-fourth of them children. Yet, the Bucks County Opportunity Council (BCOC) has been meeting the needs of many for over fifty years, connecting people with the resources they need to thrive and become self-sufficient.
The BCOC is a non-profit Community Action Agency founded in 1965 as part of legislation during the Johnson administration. It serves low income families throughout the county by providing a variety of programs to meet essential needs such as food, emergency services, home energy savings, income tax assistance and training in economic self-sufficiency.
The organization works to combat poverty, both situational and generational, for its many clients. Some people suddenly find themselves in difficult financial situations as a result of a job loss, divorce, or a medical emergency that eliminates savings and stability. Others have grown up in poverty, often for generations, and lack the education, literacy or practical skills necessary to tackle the hurdles to financial sustainability.
The BCOC works with dozens of other nonprofits, government agencies, businesses, educational institutions and individuals as they pool their resources and expertise to offer practical assistance to their clients. They partner with over 80 distribution sites, including food pantries and senior centers to get food to the hungry. Statistically, as the number of visits to food pantries increases annually, the BCOC strives to continue to meet the need.
During the cold months especially, the organization’s intervention is especially appreciated by those who receive emergency assistance in the form of preventing evictions or keeping electricity turned on, as well as home weatherization to reduce energy costs. The Wheelz2Work program provides assistance to those in need of reliable transportation, which often enables them to take a job that pays a family-sustaining wage. Donations of vehicles that are in running condition are always welcome and are given to clients working within their programs. And when tax time comes around, volunteers provide free tax preparation, reducing costs and increasing refunds and credits for low-income families.
Another highly successful component of the organization’s work is their Economic Self-Sufficiency Program, designed to help individuals gain skills, learn management tools and work their way toward economic self-sufficiency for themselves and their family. Participants in the program work with a coach who helps them to assess their needs and design a plan to reach their goals. They address needs such as childcare, healthcare, transportation, budgeting, financial literacy, and maintaining healthy supportive relationships in order to achieve success. Some individuals may be in the program for up to three years.
The non-profit is supported with funds provided by the federal government, but they are not able to meet all the needs with the amount provided. Additional funding and support is essential in order to not only maintain but expand existing programs. Community members are encouraged to get involved and provide support through a variety of donation options. Financial donations are always welcome and can be made directly online, either as a one-time gift or through a regular monthly contribution as a Bridge Builder. Donating a vehicle, planning a local food drive or donating other items for back-to-school and holiday seasons are other ways to help.
For more information on the Bucks County Opportunity Council visit their website at www.bcoc.org.