The woman who has helmed an agency that has helped thousands of families on Whidbey Island over the years will retire as the pandemic begins drawing to a close.
After more than 23 years as the director of the Opportunity Council’s Island County office, Lisa Clark has transitioned into a consulting role as a technical advisor while Melissa Frasch-Brown stepped into the lead role earlier this month.
Clark said the nonprofit “community action agency” has been more important — and busier — than ever during the pandemic as many families struggled financially. The energy assistance program, for example, helped more than 1,500 families pay utility bills last year.
The agency’s greatest challenge was finding affordable housing for displaced families, though she said that’s nothing new.
“There’s no mechanism for giving them a place to stabilize when there are no options available,” she said.
The Opportunity Council is governed by a volunteer board equally representing private, public and low-income sectors of Island, San Juan and Whatcom counties. The agency is funded through a menagerie of federal, state, local and private grants.
The agency offers a wide variety of services for struggling families and individuals, including rental assistance, early learning programs, child care resources, weatherization and more.
The Opportunity Council and Citizens Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse share Marjie’s House, an apartment complex that shelters homeless women and their children.
Clark said she came to the agency almost by accident after a 20-year career in the health care field. When she first started, it was just her, a half-time person and a volunteer in the office in Oak Harbor. Now there are 10 employees and more will be added to help with COVID-related programs.
Whether it was grant writing or building relationships with other agencies, Clark said her job was to make sure her hardworking, capable staff can do their work helping people. About 3,000 households receive services each year.
Clark said she’s glad that she will be replaced by someone as qualified and skilled as Frasch-Brown, who worked with the Opportunity Council’s Island County service center for six years, most recently overseeing staff and housing contracts as the lead housing case manager.
“I have great confidence in Melissa, and I know the staff does as well,” Clark said. “She knows the issues, the systems and is a strong advocate of our community.”
Frasch-Brown has 14 years of social service experience, specifically working with homeless and low-income families and youth.
Prior to coming to the Opportunity Council, she oversaw state contracts for foster care placement, licensing, budgets and worked as a program manager at a Domestic Violence Shelter in Virginia, the agency reported in a press release.
“I look forward to using my skills to support our agency, our team and our community and continue to advocate for the things I care deeply about,” Frasch-Brown said in the press release.
As for Clark, she said she plans to move to the East Side to be closer to family.