Havre Daily News - News you can use

Opportunity Link awarded $300,000 grant


December 20, 2013

Lindsay Brown

Barb Stiffarm, executive director of Opportunity Link Inc., speaks during Thursday's pot luck at the North Central Montana Transit bus barn. Stiffarm addressed guests from the Northwest Area Foundation.

Opportunity Link Inc. recently received more than $300,000 from a grant to help those in need rise up.

The grant was given to Opportunity Link by the Northwest Area Foundation, to pursue initiatives for more housing and more jobs in the region.

Barbara Stiffarm, the executive director of Opportunity Link, said the funds will be from a two-year grant, amounting to $344,000.

"We will be working diligently to continue this work," Stiffarm said.

Gary Cunningham, the vice president of programs and chief program officer for the foundation, lauded Opportunity Link for its exceptional work in providing transportation for the Havre area.

"In this region, where things are so far in between ... this line means a lot," Cunningham said.

Cunningham said he met with the staff at Opportunity Link and they talked about the staff's vision for what they wanted to do to help the community.

"It's folks like you ... ," Cunningham said. "I have fallen in love deeper with this country because of the work that you do. Together, we can make a difference."

The goal of the foundation, formed in 1934 by Louis Hill, son of Great Northern Railway founder James J. Hill, is to "support the effectiveness of the people to address the issue of poverty and transportation," Cunningham said.

Stiffarm said that in Opportunity Link's meetings with the communities it works with, almost every community listed housing and more jobs as a need.

The grant money would be used as an "economic engine" and to build assets and wealth for the people of the community, Stiffarm said.

"It's more about job creation than housing," Stiffarm said. "It's really a community vision."

Opportunity Link serves 11 counties and three reservations and is a program formed through a Northwest Area Foundation grant. According to their website, most of north-central Montana has 1.5 to 2.5 times higher rate of poverty than the national average.

"Opportunity Link seeks systemic solutions to reduce poverty and help the communities of North-Central Montana achieve and sustain independence, prosperity and a better way of life," the website says.

The money granted to Opportunity Link is part of $4.6 million the foundation is using to create jobs and business opportunities.

A press release from the foundation says the funding given to Opportunity Link of Havre is a means to "address affordable housing, job training and job creation for Native Americans and low-income workers in North-Central Montana."

The foundation is dedicated to supporting efforts by the people, organizations and communities to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable prosperity, the press release says. The foundation works with eight states and more than 75 sovereign tribal nations. A minimum of 40 percent of its grant portfolio in 2013 was committed to "Native American programs and Native-operated nonprofit organizations working to increase community and individual financial abilities, access to capital and entrepreneurial skills," the press release says.


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