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Guests: Forty years later, SMOC’s mission remains vital
By Bruce Hulme, Jeffrey Fishman and James D. Hanrahan / Guest Columnists
Wednesday, January 18, 2006 - Updated: 12:08 AM EST

The South Middlesex Opportunity Council was established over 40 years ago as part of the nation’s "War on Poverty." As stated in the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, "The United States can achieve its full economic and social potential as a nation, only if every individual has the opportunity to contribute to the full extent of his capabilities and to participate in the workings of our society."
    The mission and purpose of the agency was to organize people and marshal resources to help meet the basic human needs of low-income or otherwise disadvantaged members of our community.
    Through these efforts, SMOC assisted people to improve the conditions of their lives which prevented them from achieving social and economic equality and independence. Lack of educational opportunity, low wages, unavailability of decent affordable housing, lack of child care, substance abuse or mental illness or, perhaps, a combination of these things, contributed to the conditions which held people back from reaching their full potential.
    The South Middlesex Opportunity Council (SMOC) worked with each individual and family to correct these conditions and assist them to move to successful community living where they would contribute their energy and skills to the improvement of the quality of their own lives and to the betterment of the community at large.
    We believe in these goals and, over the years, the board and staff of SMOC have taken these responsibilities to heart and have worked diligently to design, attract and implement programs that would meet our mission of providing the ways and means for people to meet their needs and keep moving forward.
    This planned and purposeful growth has led to the establishment and maintenance of programs designed to meet the immediate human needs of our neighbors by allowing them to live in dignity while using the tools of education, job skill development, good health and affordable housing to help build the foundations for their eventual economic independence.
    The Head Start and Child Care programs provide early developmental growth opportunities for children and their families. The Women Infant and Children (WIC) provides opportunities for wholesome nutritious foods for low-income families. The Meals on Wheels and Elder Congregate Meals programs provide opportunities for good nutrition for many hundreds of our senior neighbors who might otherwise be pushed to dangerous and difficult choices because of inadequate income or resources.
    The Energy and Financial Assistance programs provide critical support for low-income families and individuals, many of whom are our elderly neighbors, to keep their homes warm during New England’s harsh winters -- again, without forcing cruel choices that would force families to forego some basic necessities such as food or health care as they exhaust their meager resources.
    Behavioral Health Services provide our neighbors and families with supports that permit people with mental illness to fully participate in the life of our community, with support that permits people with substance abuse histories to beat their addictions, commit to recovery, reconnect with their families, get jobs and move to successful independence.
    Housing subsidies and supported housing provides our neighbors and families with an affordable home where people can concentrate on building skills and stable home lives for future growth and success.
    Voices Against Violence provides safe haven for families fleeing domestic violence and for women who have suffered violence, assault, abuse and rape. This program provides a time and a place to heal for many hundreds of our neighbors and families.
    Economic Development programs provide adult education, daily living skill development, employment search and replacement and other support services that assist low-income residents to obtain and sustain jobs, thus creating the means for personal development and economic growth and independence.
    Emergency Shelter programs meet the truly profound needs of individuals and families who have exhausted all their personal, family and community connections and resources and have found themselves in desperate need of safe shelter from the elements and the dangers of the street. Many of us are a paycheck or two away from homelessness. Whatever the struggles that have brought them to this point in their lives, these people, too, are our neighbors and families and basic human compassion calls upon the community to shelter them and begin again the work to repair the human conditions which brought them to this place.
    It is important to all of us at SMOC, the board and staff, to carry out this work respecting both the people who participate in our programs and our neighbors throughout the communities in which the programs reside. Our history is a history of reaching out to our neighbors and being respectful and responsive to reasonable questions and concerns.
    Our work is not about any individual in our organization. Our focus is and will continue to be on the goal of improving the quality of lives of the people in our programs that, in turn, will enhance the well being of the community at large.
    Because poverty remains persistent in the land of plenty, we remain dedicated to the mission of the South Middlesex Opportunity Council as it was established 40 years ago -- to work with our neighbors and families to assist them to move to independent dignified living as equal and contributing members of society.

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