Havre Daily News
After about six months in disarray, the 11-county anti-poverty group Opportunity Link has a plan to reorganize. Formerly the Northcentral Montana Community Ventures Coalition, Opportunity Link will begin a series of meetings this week to select a new and expanded board of directors and hire staff.
The 10-year economic development program was awarded $12 million in December 2003 by the nonprofit organization Northwest Area Foundation. Established by the descendents of railroad magnate James J. Hill, the foundation funds projects throughout the Northwest. After a long planning and application process, Opportunity Link beat out projects in states across the region for funding.
Since it was founded, Opportunity Link has seemingly done little more than battle itself, and in the spring, sought help from its parent, the Northwest Area Foundation.
”That's what is leading to these meetings and other things,“ interim board member Randy Hanson said. ”There's a process in place to move forward because there was a fear locally if we don't do something we'll lose the rest of the money.“
The foundation has given Opportunity Link $3 million in funding, with more to come if Opportunity Link begins achieving its goals.
In April, Opportunity Link's 10-member board fired the executive director and shortly afterward, two board members resigned. A remaining board member has said she believes racism contributed to the firing of executive director Angie Main, who is an enrolled member at Fort Belknap Indian Reservation.
Several weeks ago, the eight remaining board members appointed two new members, Hanson and Blackfeet Indian Reservation planner Mike LaMere, and put together a plan to fill a new board, hire an executive director and hire support staff.
”We're very encouraged by what Opportunity Link is doing,“ NorthwestArea Foundation spokeswoman Sylvia Burgos-Toftness said today. ”We recognize that our partnerships are sometimes difficult to get started. It's certainly something we have seen before.“
Burgos-Toftness said discussing the withdrawal of funding if Opportunity Link does not get off the ground now would be premature. ”But we do have certain requirments that need to be met,“ she added.
Despite Opportunity Link's stutter start, it won't get extra time beyond the 10 years allotted to implement its programs, she said.
Opportunity Link will hold two meetings in each of seven communities it serves to get going, Hanson said.
Each of the seven groups will elect two representatives for a new board of directors, Hanson said. In addition, the current board will elect three members to continue on the new board for the sake of preserving ”institutional memory,“ he said.
”Today, we are where we should have been two years ago,“ Jonathan Windy Boy, interim board chair and Rocky Boy tribal council member, told the tribal council last week.
Windy Boy updated the council on the funding Opportunity Link has available and the types of projects it might fund now that it's reorganizing.
To begin with, it will fund about $200,000 worth of projects, Hanson said.
In the past year, Hanson said, Opportunity Link has funded some projects and studies with money it raised itself. All were small scale, he added.
The idea is for Opportunity Link to provide seed money, rather than fund an entire project, Hanson said.
Windy Boy said he believes that with the reorganization plan, Opportunity Link will be able to fulfill its goal and fight poverty.
Locally, Opportunity Link will hold informational meetings Thursday at noon at the Chinook Motor Inn and at 6 p.m. at the District IV Human Resources Development Council offices in Havre. A second meeting will be held Nov. 7 in Havre to elect two board members.
Also, Opportunity Link will hold an organizational meeting Nov. 1, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., in the Triangle Telephone Cooperative building in Havre. That meeting is for people from the entire Opportunity Link project area, Hanson said.