PORTLAND — Two long-time Cumberland County nonprofits made their merger official on Jan. 27, announcing the creation of a single, sleeker, agency in a press conference at the Parkside Neighborhood Center.
The Peoples Regional Opportunity Program (PROP) and Youth Alternatives Ingraham had been working towards the merger for a year and a half, and finally debuted their new name, the Opportunity Alliance, on Friday.
“We’re very excited about the merger,” said Rachel Horton White, director of the Parkside Neighborhood Center. “We think it will allow us to offer more services and more programs at the center.”
Together, the two organizations served more than 20,000 people last year, including seniors, families, and at-risk teens. They offer more than 50 programs in 25 locations across Cumberland County to address community nutrition, housing, energy, and health issues.
The merger will allow the resulting agency to streamline its work, increasing the resources it can directly allocate to fighting poverty and improving its efficiency, officials said.
“We want people to be able to come to any door,” Jim Gemmell, Opportunity Alliance communications director, said. With the two organizations now merged, clients will only have to “tell their story” once to benefit from a broad range of services, he said.
“The goal really is to offer a seamless quality of service,” Opportunity Alliance Chairwoman Kristen Farnham said.
Speakers at the event took time not just to congratulate the organization on its cooperative efforts, but to highlight the status of issues Opportunity Alliance works to address, including nutrition and heating.
“This year is likely the worst year ever” for families depending on Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), said Suzanne McCormick, president and chief executive of the United Way of Greater Portland, and former head of PROP.
“Over 650 families that got help (via LIHEAP) last year won’t be eligible this year” because of reduced federal aid for the program, McCormick said. Those that do receive help will get less money than in past years, she said.
McCormick also announced that the United Way will funnel $50,000 in funds earmarked for heating assistance through the Opportunity Alliance.
“These organizations have come together at a point in time when many people in Maine and in the country face challenges,” said Kevin Concannon of Scarborough, who is the U.S. Department of Agriculture under secretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services.
Concannon said organizations like Opportunity Alliance are instrumental in helping the USDA reach its target clients for programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.