WSC member Grady, serving with Opportunity Council in Bellingham stands in front of a dry-erase board with financial terms on it.

My name is Grady and I am a member of the AmeriCorps State and National Service Program, my area of focus being Economic Opportunity. This is my second year of service at the Opportunity Council, a community action non-profit organization dedicated to serving members of Whatcom County that are experiencing privation and homelessness. My role within the Opportunity Council is that of advocate and educator, though the scope of my service extends far beyond the bounds of such titular terms. I am the first face a client sees when they are referred to our Financial Stability department, I am the one that crafts a resume with them, I am the one that works with them when our case managers are indisposed or employment programs have no capacity for new clients. I am responsible for community outreach, facilitating our bi-weekly computer labs, educating members of our community on issues relating to financial literacy as well as preparing federal tax returns for low-income households.

This year my story of service is focused upon an educational and outreach program that a colleague and I have been working to establish, a program that will address an unmet need in our community, a program that will continue on long past this year of service.

The program will be a series of monthly panels that will be furnished by experts from our community who will address challenges, opportunities, common questions and provide advice related to their subject of expertise, which as of right now includes: taxes, housing, debt and credit as well as employment search and readiness. Each panel will consist of three to four experts and will be a combination of prepared questions that will be posed by us as the facilitators as well as questions that will be asked by members of the audience. The purpose of this program is two-fold, firstly to demystify the services and systems that our clients and members of our community participate within on a daily basis, thus refining their sense of efficacy and personal agency; and secondly to establish and strengthen connections between service providers, subject matter experts and the members of our community who most frequently navigate these systems. By providing a means for members of community to engage directly with various subject-matter experts, the process by which they acquire this information will not only be more meaningful and “real” but will also be far more relevant to their individual needs.