Founded in 1955 and currently celebrating sixty years of service, Oberlin Community Services (OCS) is a responsive community organization that provides direct assistance, referrals, and other services to Oberlin and southern Lorain County residents and groups who need help meeting basic needs. Our staff is small but remarkably dedicated and efficient. By the measure of clients served — more than 1800 households in 2016 –we are the largest “safety-net” agency in our service area.
Our service region includes the City of Oberlin and ten nearby townships, villages and cities: Brighton, Camden, Carlisle, Huntington, Lagrange, New Russia, Penfield, Pittsfield, Rochester, and Wellington. According to the 2010 data found at http://www.city-data.com/poverty/poverty-Oberlin-Ohio.html, 28.4% of lifelong Oberlinians live below the poverty line. In Wellington, our next largest service area, 15.6% of people live below the poverty line. Sixty percent of the children in the Oberlin public schools (which serve several townships as well as the City of Oberlin) are eligible for free or reduced lunches.
Area residents continue to face job loss and medical emergencies leading to many more families facing economic hardships. More and more OCS clients are middle-income people who have lost their jobs and are falling into the ranks of the low-income for the first time in their lives. Many who come in to see us are struggling with sporadic and inadequate income, hunger, lack of healthcare coverage, substandard housing, and home foreclosure. Some of our clients suffer from mental health issues, physical disabilities, and/or criminal records that keep them out of the workforce. OCS seeks to alleviate these problems by providing food and other necessary goods, vouchers for otherwise unaffordable prescription drugs or transportation, utility assistance when there is threat of shut-offs, and rent or mortgage assistance to avoid evictions and homelessness. OCS works on an interagency basis with regional partners to optimize available resources and services offered. As one example, we are part of a United Way collaborative with twelve other agencies working to prevent recurrence of these problems and to create longer-term solutions through personal counseling, job advice and training, and careful case management. This enables OCS to sustain a focus on our key services and clients while providing a wider array of services through our partner agencies.
OCS Services Back to Top
OCS operates the following services, many in partnership with other agencies:
• Food daily to area residents, Monday-Friday, and monthly USDA commodity food items
• Support constituents with casework including counseling, problem assessment, guidance with forms for employment and various assistance programs and services from other agencies
• Provide emergency financial assistance to area residents
• Fresh, organic produce from OCS garden and cooking/nutrition classes for constituents
• Coordinate daily home delivery of food to low income and home bound residents
• Avert utility shutoffs and assist with re-connections for area residents
• Prevent homelessness by assisting with rent/mortgage payments
• Provide gas vouchers to enable transportation assistance to medical appointments
• Assist area residents with vouchers to cover the cost of prescription drugs
• Process applications for the Housing Service Program for clients who are already or in danger of becoming homeless
• Process applications of Oberlin families seeking down payment assistance or home repair
• Meet emergency needs of area residents: clothing, household goods/diapers/furniture, etc.
• Offer opportunities for court-ordered community service
• Provide Splash Zone pool passes each summer for children of low-income families
• Host Holiday Helping Hands, connecting donations and gifts to area families
• Provide awareness and training through our Job Club
• Facilitate community collaboration with networking events for area agencies and leaders
• Provide financial management classes to area residents
• Facilitate GED study and financial assistance for cost of GED test
• Arrange and provide tutoring and after school programming for area students
• Enroll applicants for food stamps, Medicare, and Medicaid
• Provide tax clinics and preparation
• Coordinate volunteers for many OCS and other agency programs
Clients Served Back to Top
Serving area residents primarily from southern Lorain County, OCS serves a client base in which 25% of our clients are age 60 or over, 62% are single female heads of households (mirroring national data), 61% live in Oberlin, 12% reside in Wellington, 3% in New Russia Township, and the remainder live in other townships in Lorain County. Our largest increase in the past year came from southern Lorain County townships. Overall, 30% are members of minority groups; 64% are female.
During FY 2016, OCS served 1,818 families, comprising 5,995 individuals. This included 393 “new” families seeking services from OCS for the first time. Food distribution, a core function of OCS, provided 329,260 pounds of food, serving 33,195 people (duplicated count including family members). This is a significant increase over last fiscal year.
Use of the pantry by households in Lorain County rose by 97%, with service to seniors increasing 20% and children increasing 13%. In addition to the food pantry data, 4026 meals were delivered to elderly and homebound Oberlin residents through our Meals on Wheels Program.
From a casework perspective, OCS handled 1106 casework instances, including problem assessment, counseling, follow up and emergency assistance. These took the form of:
o 101 rent/mortgage assistances
o 438 utility assistances
o 10 Housing Service Program assistances
o 5 applicants for the Housing Revolving Loan
o 155 transportation vouchers and $1200 in gasoline cards
o 85 prescription vouchers
o 872 people given information and referrals
Many families availed themselves of additional services offered through OCS. For instance, we provided 824 units of hygiene and household products assistance (diapers, personal hygiene products, clothing, cleaning supplies, household goods, etc.). At holiday time, 355 kids received gifts through the Holiday Helping Hands program.
Partnership History Back to Top
OCS was established in 1955, and has been serving clients in southern Lorain County for 60 years. OCS has long operated on collaborative principles, recognizing the value of partnerships to better serve the needs of our clients. The following partnerships are all still active:
1974: Meals on Wheels w/ Mercy Hospital; nutritious meals delivered to elderly, homebound
1982: OCS becomes distribution site for County Cupboard Food Bank; expanded in 1983 to coordinate distribution of government surplus commodities. This has grown to the current daily, monthly and holiday food distributions partnered with Second Harvest.
1980s: Expanded utility assistance program with FEMA and the City using the Caring Fund
1992: Established tutoring program for at-risk students working with Oberlin Public Schools.
1999: Partnered with City of Oberlin to help client renovate homes through housing program
2001: With the Nord Center, developed a homelessness prevention initiative
2002: With City of Oberlin and Lorain County Metro Parks established Summer Pool Pass program enabling disadvantaged youth to swim at Splash Zone
2008: Community Giving Campaign formed with Oberlin Schools, City and College
2009: Partnered with area churches to manage Churches Helping Others Fund, supporting prescription, transportation and emergency needs.
2010: Community garden initiative with several partners – People’s Garden and Tool Sharing
2010: OberlinKids early learning and readiness initiative was formed with the City of Oberlin and area child care providers to identify and serve all children destined for the Oberlin Schools
2011: AmeriCorps VISTA tutoring and volunteer coordination launched
2013: Wellness and healthy foods program with Lorain County General Health District
2013: Collaborate with Goodwill Industries to provide job counseling on a weekly basis
2014: United Way Collaborative Assistance Network (UCAN) countywide collaboration
2014: Training and Employment of local youth with Lorain County Job and Family Services
2014: Counseling initiative with Firelands Mental Health Agency
2015: Emergency Assistance Training with Salvation Army
2015: National Quality Forum addressing Community Health and Chronic Disease
2016: Women in Sustainable Employment (WISE) Job Training Program
In addition, OCS partners with groups such as Oberlin Library & Bridge, NACS, LNB, OSU Extension, Green Circle, Rotary, LCCC, Oberlin Project, Kendal at Oberlin, Bonner Center, and many area churches and restaurants to broaden awareness and leverage fundraising.
Staffing Back to Top
OCS operates a lean organization with three full time and several part time staff members, aided by many volunteers. Cynthia Andrews serves as the Executive Director, joining OCS after serving on four non-profit boards through her 26 years of corporate management experience with IBM. In 2014, she engaged the OCS community in a strategic planning process receiving input from nearly 130 organizations and individuals, and together with the OCS Board has crafted a plan building upon emergency assistance, moving toward building blocks for economic stability for clients. Feedback documents that our strategic plan and economic development model resonate with our clients, community and funders. As the organization’s leader, Cindy has direct oversight of all OCS programs, assuring that programs run smoothly, staff and resources are secured and appropriately allocated, and that partnership opportunities are optimized.
Our client services coordinator, Kathy Burns, has a B.A. in social work as well as a social work license. Through her 10 year tenure at OCS she has met with clients to assess what type of assistance would make the most positive impact, including budgeting, counseling, a referral to another organization, emergency assistance, or other services. 40% of Kathy’s clients were new to OCS in 2016.
Our food distribution coordinator, Alan Mitchell, manages all aspects of food distribution. He places food orders, delivers food when necessary, stocks the warehouse, and coordinates volunteers to assist in this work. He also connects with farmers, grocers and gardeners to find ways to increase the amount and quality of food we offer. Our clients’ food distribution needs increased nearly 50% in 2014.
In addition, OCS has a full time Office Manager who coordinates reception, office communication, data collection, and overall administrative duties. There are two half time volunteer coordinators who organize 12,740 hours of volunteer service annually and a half time tutoring coordinator who recruits, trains and coordinates up to 70 tutors to work with students needing assistance in mathematics in grades 3-9, and works with our OberlinKids early learning partnership. We are fortunate to also have an AmeriCorps VISTA member providing financial literacy and economic development capacity building.
In addition to paid staff, our volunteer coordinators enable us to make effective and appropriate use of many more volunteers than in previous years, many of whom come to us from Oberlin and Lorain County Community Colleges, along with their work-study colleagues.
Funding Back to Top
Measuring Impact and Success: Metrics Back to Top
To determine program participation, we follow established geographical and income guidelines. We satisfy the eligibility requirements of particular programs and funders, while still allowing the client services coordinator discretion in unusual circumstances. In the following areas, we now track monthly and annual changes to assess program viability and emphasis. We also are developing data models that are intended to yield effectiveness measures, suggesting the efficacy of each service (i.e. – are we solving longer term issues as well as short term needs?).
• Food: number of people and families receiving food through daily, weekly, and monthly food distributions; number of homebound people to whom food was delivered; number of Meals On Wheels delivered;
• Gas, water, electricity: number and amount of utility assistances; number of families;
• Shelter: number and amount of rent assistances; number of families;
• Community Housing Improvement Program participation/Housing Service Program participation: number of applications requested and completed;
• Transportation: number and amount of gas/bus vouchers; number of individuals;
• Medication: number and amount of prescription vouchers; number of individuals;
• Emergency and/or basic needs (diapers, hygiene products, clothing, household goods): number of vouchers/assistances and number of individuals receiving them;
• Summer Pool Pass Program: number of free Splash Zone passes awarded;
• Casework: detailed records for each client serviced; assistances, denials, and referrals;
• Volunteers: number of volunteer hours; number of individuals who volunteer;
• Job Assistance: done on a case by case basis as caseworker meets with each client.
• Housing repair and rehabilitation: number of houses rehabbed for clients
Data collection occurs on a daily basis beginning with intake procedures and logs. Each contact is logged, whether it is a phone contact or a face-to-face client contact requiring extended casework. Disposition of each contact is tracked on our client records, indicating services received and referrals, and is entered into our database. Monthly statistics are generated for review by our client-services team and our Board and submitted to our funders as required.
Continuous Improvement and Best Practices Back to Top
OCS strives continuously to improve programs and to formulate best practices that conform to nationally accepted standards and the requirements of our funders. We believe it is our responsibility to seek out all available resources that may benefit our clients. This also entails remaining informed about the needs of the people we serve by seeking their input, both formally and informally.
Over the past six years, we have documented improvement in the accessibility and quality of our food program by introducing a Choice Pantry, acquiring food from more sources, offering cooking classes and nutrition awareness.
Our case management has improved through partnerships with several county agencies such as Job and Family Services, the Nord Center, Community Action, and the Salvation Army. We have also gleaned insight into client needs through multi-language client surveys.
Finally, through improved data mining and analysis tools, along with research and national collaboration, we are establishing a data dashboard to continually optimize our services to help our clients along their personal journeys to self-esteem and self-sufficiency.