Opportunity Place, owned and operated by Opportunity, Inc., provides emergency shelter for families with children and single woman, as space is available. Located in Fort Walton Beach, Opportunity Place serves families from all areas of Okaloosa and Walton Counties.
Opportunity, Inc. was presented with a facility suitable for a family shelter, and unable to find anyone else to take it. So the staff of one paid employee and one volunteer moved in, started renovations, cornered friends to help with donations, and opened for an original group of 19 three months later on July 5, 2009.
That may be a way to start, but that isn't a way to maintain. Opportunity Place has put together a budget required for no-frills sustainability, and organized to ensure funds for that budget are met each year.
The first cornerstone was to become a recipient of the federal Emergency Shelter Grant program, an award that was applied for in March, 2009, awarded in May, with a contract executed in September, 2009. This grant brought in nearly $80,000 in FY 2010-11, and is expected to generate $93,000 in FY 2012-13. Operational expenses such as utilities, phones, insurance, food costs, cleaning supplies, maintenance and repairs are covered, as well as a portion of the case managers' salary.
However, programs need more than one part-time case manager, and even the $93,000 will not cover all repair costs, audits and supplies. Opportunity Place is in need of a large copier, commercial appliances, and other expenses too large for a medium range federal grant. Opportunity, Inc. also has programs in Crestview and Walton County that also need support, and for which no grant funds are available. And finally, grants do not cover administrative costs, and yet reports need to be generated, payroll compiled and distributed, employees hired, trained, and supervised.
In order to generate the additional funds, Opportunity, Inc. has created a multi-pronged effort for sustainability.
First, Opportunity, Inc. has established recurrent fundraisers, including:
Harlem Ambassadors vs. Opportunity Knocks basketball at the Northwest Florida State College Arena
Participation in the White-Wilson Foundation "Little Black Dress" eventSales of smoked meats for every occasion
Additional fundraisers are held when possible, to include sales of Easter baskets, Christmas crafts created by residents, and yard sales.
Second, Opportunity, Inc. applies for private foundation grants. This year, these include:
The Fund for Gulf Coast Giving has awarded $55,000 of funds originated through the Rockefeller Foundation to establish our Children's Services Program.Compass Bank awarded us $5,000 to assist with our budgeting programs.
Sam's Club and Walmart provide in-kind donations generously, including furniture and kitchenware for transitioning families. The staff has recruited ongoing donors, who may give $50-$75 per month.
Most recently, the Opportunity, Inc. executive director, in collaboration with a seven-year-old resident, has compiled a book,"A Safe Place for Kaytlind," published as an e-book and in hard cover. This book is meant to provide a dual purpose in establishing community awareness of child homelessness, as well as raising funds to support these children.
Opportunity Place is also seeking other opportunities for giving, such as local private foundations, so that we can expand capacity and services to meet the needs not just of our residents, but the hundreds we must turn away each year due to lack of funds.
Because of these efforts, Opportunity Place is now a fully conceived "shelter plus" program. Single women and families come not just for shelter and food, but a chance and the resources to heal, to grow, and to move on. Twelve family units are available, so that each family can have privacy and time. Four common areas allow adults to play with their children, children to play with each other, and adults to pool their resources.
The primary building houses offices, a kitchen, dining area, and multi-purpose room. Clients go there for meals, budgeting classes, counseling sessions, intakes, progress reports, and exit interviews. Outside is a playground, food pantry, and room to run.
Many people have worked miracles in making Opportunity Place the place where broken families are made whole. Partner agencies teach children, help clients build resumes and hone interview skills, learn to cope with trauma. Volunteers provide meals, a shoulder to cry on, eyes to smile into, and hands to hold. Staff members welcome women and families into the shelter, explain the rules, hold clients accountable for getting jobs, housing, GEDS, and prepare them for their eventual exit. They not only direct clients to JobsPlus to register for jobs and benefits, but they make their stay dependent upon their effort in working with that and other public resources. The combination of agencies, volunteers and staff has led to an amazing array of happy endings, and a few heartbreaks.
In April, 2007, two women, Lenore Wilson and Lydia Barton, embarked on a journey to fashion the Okaloosa Walton Homeless Continuum of Care/ Opportunity, Inc. into an organization that could truly alleviate homelessness in this region. Their goal was to utilize and support existing service providers, and to bring desperately needed new services to the community.
Opportunity Place Hosts First Wedding
October 31, 2009 - Two shelter residents, who have long been in love, celebrated their union at Opportunity Place. The mother of the bride decorated our facility (we'll have to have her back at Christmas - it was amazing), the Mental Health Association covered the license costs, Board of Directors Member Gloria Battle handled the flowers, and Martin Fancher officiated. A resident provided vocals, a thrift store donated the dress, and Board of Directors member Duane St. John provided the reception food. It was one of the loveliest, most joyful weddings I have attended. The facility was so lovely we thought perhaps we should start advertising as a wedding venue. In our short four months of operation, we have seen the full play of life - from newborns, to children heading off to their first day of school, to school graduations, a wedding, illness, and a valued and loved residents facing his last days. It is an honor to be part of this program, providing help through not just our own staff, but from a wide circle of friends and partner organizations.