NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

Opportunity Works

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Northern Essex, as a community, has experienced hot weather, summer classes, and construction this past summer. The stairs for the main entrance at the Spurk Building are pearly white, classy, and ready for the upcoming semester. Adjacent to the Spurk Building is the newest addition to the NECC’s community: Opportunity Works.

In 1974, a group of Greater Newburyport-area residents began to discuss their concern about the lack of support services available to adults with developmental disabilities and their families.

According to their website, Opportunity Works began with “the vision of empowering people with disabilities to experience the freedom to live, work, and enjoy a valued role in society.”  Thirty nine years later, their vision is continued through dedicated workers like Melissa Merrow.  Melissa Merrow, Director of Program Operations, has been with Opportunity Works since 2009. She started off as the Day Habilitation Manager, then was promoted to Director of Specialized Day Services a year later.  Just this past June she was promoted again, this time to Director of Program Operations. She has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, Business Minor from Salem State University.

“We partner with many people in the greater National Board Professional Teaching and Merrimack Valley area,” said Merrow. “For example, our individuals volunteer at various churches and food pantries in the area. Volunteering gives them a sense of giving back to the community and also the confidence they need to obtain jobs in the community versus the volunteering.”

“We also visit local nursing homes monthly as a ‘Random Act of Kindness’ day! We go over and play cards, talk, enjoy their company, fulfilling for both agencies! By our individuals getting out into the community more it also gives the public a better understanding of who Opportunity Works is and what we do. We ensure people are reaching their maximum independence through personal and professional interests.”

Their vision, according to the website, is to set “leading standards of excellence among individual service providers in supporting people with disabilities and their families, empower the people we serve to fully achieve personal growth and a valued role in society, promote a positive and supportive work environment for employees, realize planned growth of existing programs, while ensuring our commitment to our core values, engage the community in supporting Opportunity Works to achieve our mission.”

Merrow also mentioned how Opportunity Works has many volunteer sites. These include things like the new “Special Stars” dance program this month. There’s also an annual International Week, where each program room is a different country, allowing members to “travel the world,” and a Holiday Bazaar, where donations received help the individuals make crafts and buy gifts for their families for the holiday season.

“We offer the Project Search program, there are only two in the state of Massachusetts. We are now offering college classes at NECC (Northern Essex Community College) for our individuals,” says Merrow. Opportunity Works has two locations, in Newburyport and Haverhill. The Newburyport location is at 10 Opportunity Way, Newburyport, and the Haverhill location is located at 671 Kenoza Street, Haverhill.

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