In 1964, the Congress of the United States passed the Economic Opportunity Act for the purpose of “eliminating the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty.” The Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) was given the mission to develop and carry out a national strategy to end poverty by working with and through key public and private institutions at the national, state, and local levels. As a result, Community Action Agencies were being formed across the nation as a local mechanism to address and end poverty in local communities.
Resolution No. 46 was passed in June of 1965 by the County Board of Supervisors (now known as the Oswego County Legislature), under the leadership of Supervisor Eugene Saloga. The resolution permitted the establishment of a local agency to receive OEO monies and operate local anti-poverty programs.
Immediately, concerned county officials and individuals set about to establish such an agency to fulfill the goals of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 and the County Legislators Resolution of 1965. In March 1966, Oswego County Opportunities (OCO) was chartered.
OCO was incorporated as a not-for-profit human services agency on March 15, 1966, as a result of President Lyndon Johnson’s Economic Opportunity Program. The original intent was to operate programs through Oswego County’s Office of Economic Opportunities; but the county never applied for funding.
Some of the individuals working on the original Board of Directors included: Herbert VanSchaack, Arthur J. Clawson, Frances T. Sullivan, W. Harlow Stratton, Marguerite B. Lincoln, and Francis R. Mirabito, who were all signees of the original charter.
At that time, with the organizational goal accomplished, interest waned. There was no one to drive the program and funding forward. Thus, when OEO monies were most available nation-wide, Oswego County received none.
However, during this stage of inactivity for OCO, a new agency, working primarily with migrant farm laborers, known as Oswego County Interfaith Ministry of Concern, Inc,. became chartered. They received OEO Migrant (Title III-B) Funds for the first time in 1969. Interfaith Ministry soon realized the need for a year-round working agency that it could use as its base for summer migrant work, and thus, set out to reorganize OCO.
The reorganization plan was developed at a special OCO Corporation Meeting on December 14, 1970. A new Board of Directors was chosen to serve until the annual meeting in April of 1971, when a full slate of Directors would be elected.
In December 1970, a group of original OCO Board Members began to seek grants to provide poverty-related services in the County.
In June of 1971, OCO received its first program grant from OEO migrant funds for $17,000, and in August 1971, the agency received a grant from the Department of Health, Education and Welfare for $60,000, to establish an out of hospital Family Planning Center.
In 1972, OCO held its first Annual Meeting and published its first Annual Report. The agency’s first Executive Director, E. Peter Geitner, noted:
“OCO began as a venture in faith. As some pilgrims search across the seas for a better life for themselves, OCO sought to renew the life of its own community hand in hand with those who were the tired, the poor, the discouraged and the disadvantaged.”
The number of employees at OCO has grown considerably over the years. In 1974 there were 20 employees working for OCO. By 2012, there were 660 employees. OCO is one of the top six private employers in Oswego County. Its 50 programs are administered at over 80 sites, and in virtually every County community.
OCO consists of four departments: Health & Nutrition, Community Services, Residential Services and Corporate (Administrative) Services. What “began as a venture in faith,” now is a strong, vibrant agency that actively and effectively pursues its mission:
….to build partnerships that improve the quality of life and create successful communities.