The Opportunity Community Model

The Opportunity Community (OC) model is a national movement designed to create the types of communities we all want to live in. This can be achieved by increasing prosperity for the people living in the crisis of poverty. Dr. Donna M. Beegle combined her experience of living for 28 years in extreme migrant labor poverty, with 20 years of studying and working with communities to create a research-based model for assisting people to move out — and to stay out — of poverty. At the core, the (OC) model addresses seven key issues that prevent us from reducing poverty:

  1. No clear definition of poverty.
  2. Varying views of the causes of poverty.
  3. Education about poverty and its impacts on people provided by the media which promote stereotypes.
  4. Resolutions, actions, programs, funding allocations and policies are created without the voices of people from generational, working class, immigrant, and situational poverty.
  5. Efforts to eradicate poverty are isolated and focused on (at best) assisting people to cope with current poverty conditions.
  6. The “Deficit” model is the primary framework for addressing poverty.
  7. Economic development is misaligned with the human capital available.

The OC model employs a comprehensive approach that builds on the existing strengths of people in poverty, business, social service, education, healthcare, justice, faith-based organizations and community members to make a difference for their region. This model has similar components as the Collective Impact process, Tamarack’s Vibrant Communities Model, and the Circles Campaign for engaging diverse support from the community. However, the OC model goes beyond building collaborations and partnerships. At its core, the OC model:

  1. Serves people from generational, working class, situational, and immigrant poverty.
  2. Provides structure for a better-connected community network resulting in a more effective and efficient poverty-fighting system.
  3. Provides community-wide education to increase awareness and understanding about the real causes of poverty — Educating people living in poverty (Neighbors) and volunteers (Navigators and Specialty Navigators) — then connecting Navigators and Neighbors in strong relationships.
  4. Trains community professionals to serve as Specialty Navigators and support the efforts of Navigators who are working to access resources and opportunities for their neighbors.
  5. Increases engagement of sectors of the community not previously involved in fighting poverty.
  6. Builds capacity of helping professionals who serve people in poverty.

Anchor Organization Roles and Responsibilities

  • Assist in coordinating and attend half-day session conducted by Dr. Donna M. Beegle: “Prosperity Summit: Improving outcomes for our Neighbors in Poverty.” This half-day session is free to all community stakeholders. This event provides shared language, vision and momentum for implementing the OC model. It also assists the Anchor Organization in engaging partners, Specialty Navigators, Navigators and other community members for implementation and sustaining the work to improve outcomes for people in poverty in your community. After the session, participants are offered many opportunities to become partners with the Anchor Organization.
  • Secure local support, such as government agencies, non-profit organizations, businesses, education, faith-based organizations and volunteers.
  • Form Planning Team (team members are not solely from the anchor organization) and develop committees that will coordinate the implementation of the OC model, including:
    • Finance/Donations
    • Specialty Navigators
    • Navigators
    • Publicity/Marketing/Media coverage
    • Neighbor Connection (including target populations, logistics, registration, volunteers, transportation)
    • Kids Opportunity Day (Childcare — with principles of you are special and education is for you embedded in daily activities, and food)
    • Post-Neighbor/Navigator support and connections
    • Coordination of local resources and opportunities fair (for Neighbors to browse during lunch and after Opportunity Conference education program).
    • Provide or identify source for sustaining the momentum (e.g., OC Coordinator — staff person, volunteers or AmeriCorps) for post-Neighbor/Navigator support, ongoing Navigator recruitment and training, Specialty Navigator recruitment, and connections to resources and opportunities.

Neighbors

A Neighbor is a person living in poverty — people of all ages, races, families and backgrounds. The decision of who participates in the Opportunity Community is made by the community. Some communities allocate a certain number of slots for people who are homeless, people incarcerated, people who are working and in poverty, immigrant poverty, and people experiencing situational poverty. The OC model serves all context of poverty and specializes in serving people from generational poverty. The OC includes an education program for Neighbors that is designed to remove the shame that prevents people from moving forward; to rebuild the hope that stops people from grabbing opportunities; and to reduce the isolation of poverty by connecting Neighbors to Navigators and building community wide networks of support.

Anyone can be a Navigator. Navigators are community members who agree to become trained (through the OC model) to understand different experiences of poverty, to learn the structural causes of poverty, and to gain communication and relationship building skills. Navigators commit to sharing their contact information and to using their networks to assist their Neighbor to access resources and support for moving out and staying out of poverty.

Specialty Navigators

Specialty Navigators are members of the community who work in organizations that provide resources or opportunities (colleges, hospitals, housing, courts, etc.). Specialty Navigators agree to take and return calls from Navigators and to assist them in understanding how to navigate their system.

Super Navigators

Super Navigators are people who have experienced poverty, but have made strides to move out. Super Navigators offer support to Navigators who struggle to connect with their Neighbors in poverty.

Who Should Be Involved

Successful OCs engage local non-profits, business, government/social service agencies, faith-based organizations, statewide networks and volunteers. For example, consider the following groups in your area:

  • Business Leaders
  • Department of Human Services
  • Community Action Agencies
  • United Way
  • K-16 schools
  • Employment or other workforce department
  • Chamber of Commerce
  • Non-profits
  • Foundations
  • Health organizations
  • Justice organizations

When Should You Start?

Once you gather your community partners, it typically takes 4-6 months of preparation for implementing the model and developing the tools for sustaining the model. This allows time for adequate planning, recruiting volunteers, training Navigators, registering Neighbors to attend the Opportunity Community Conference (education program), securing donations and sponsorships, and building awareness and support in your community for creating an Opportunity Community.

How Much Time and Support You’ll Need

The project has a one-year cycle, designed to be ongoing as needed. The Opportunity Community Conference (the educational program) is designed to be annual with a class of Neighbors “graduating” at the end of the program. Graduates are invited to return and volunteer with the model or even become Navigators as they move out of poverty. Project costs for subsequent years are significantly reduced with CAB’s “train the trainer” program that prepares local trainers to train Navigators and recruit Specialty Navigators.

The Leadership Committee and other committees working on the OC will typically meet once a month for the duration of the planning period (4-6 months prior to Opportunity Conference), meeting more frequently as needed. All community partners are also asked to attend a Prosperity Summit session with Dr. Beegle at the beginning of the planning period.

Communities with the most success have designated an “anchor organization which hires or uses in-house staff to serve as a OC Coordinator (approx. 20 hours per week). The coordinator is key for model sustainability, Neighbor/Navigator support, ongoing training of Navigators, recruitment of Specialty Navigators, coordination, and building community awareness and support. Navigators spend about 8-12 hours per month working with their Neighbors (for a minimum of six months) plus a one-day poverty training session, and attendance at the Opportunity Conference where they are matched with their Neighbors.

Communication Across Barriers supports the Anchor Organization every step of the way. CAB will provide:

  • An Opportunity Coach assigned to your community. The Coach visits your community twice. On the first visit, the Coach provides the OC Implementation training to stakeholders and an implementation guide. On the second visit, your Coach will assist in ensuring all details are in order and conduct Navigator and Specialty Navigator training the morning of the event. You will have unlimited telephone and e-mail support from Opportunity Coach through 90 days post Opportunity Conference education program for Neighbors.
  • All OC curriculum, training and materials.
  • Assistance in developing a collective community structure for holding and sustaining the OC model.
  • Tools for developing an inventory of “Specialty Navigators” to provide resources and opportunities.
  • Tools for recruiting Navigators.
  • Tools for motivating Neighbors to attend.
  • Models and strategies used by other communities to implement and sustain the work.
  • Additional materials and resources for second year implementation.

How Results Are Measured

The OC model utilizes a variety of tools and methods to gather information about the results of a model. These include:

  • Neighbor Opportunity Community Conference pre and post-evaluations — completed by Neighbors
  • Navigator training evaluations
  • Phone interviews and focus groups — conducted at 6-month intervals for two years by the OC Coordinator with the support of Navigators and volunteers
  • Six month journals of Navigators
  • Input of the Planning Team (and community partners)

Below are the key measures that these methods track:

  • Hope
  • New businesses started
  • Reduced isolation
  • Housing
  • Access to transportation
  • Increased confidence
  • Dental/medical/mental health care
  • School attendance by Neighbors’ children
  • Employment
  • Wages
  • Education
  • Literacy
  • Work-provided benefits
  • Government or other assistance needed (e.g., SNAP, TANF, emergency food assistance)
  • Neighbors becoming leaders

Why You Should Become an Opportunity Community

Results:

  • Empowered Neighbors — low-income individuals and families with hope, tools, support and connections to get out and stay out of poverty. The ability to use new tools and ideas as well as better awareness of the resources that are already available. An understanding that they are cared about by their community.
  • Trained Navigators and Specialty Navigators — increase in community members active and engaged in bettering their community.
  • Strengthened social safety net — new resources, more people engaged in fighting poverty and enhanced use of existing resources.
  • Better-connected community — across age, race, income and education levels.

Becoming an Opportunity Community

Like most endeavors, strong leadership and coordination are key to the success of the Opportunity Community model. An Anchor Organization that works with the Communication Across Barriers staff is essential for breaking poverty barriers. Below are roles and responsibilities for the anchor organization and an overview of support from Communication Across Barriers.

Communication Across Barriers (CAB) provides structure and support for implementing and sustaining the OC model. The first step for a community is to gather community support. Broad-based, diverse involvement is key to OC success. Identify potential partners in your community (see “Who should be involved?” for examples). At this point, CAB assigns an Opportunity Coach to assist in building partnerships and in the implementation of the model. Your Opportunity Coach will help with problem solving advice, financial and grant-seeking assistance, regular phone and email coaching support, and help you identify one anchor organization to serve as champion and leader for the project. The Opportunity Coach will provide a step-by-step guide and assist with the implementation of the model.

Become an Opportunity Community — the kind of community everyone wants to live in!