Editor’s note: Philanthropy Matters is a monthly column focusing on philanthropy in our community.

You are feeling good about your life. You are meeting your financial needs and you have something left over to share with others. Congratulations! Maybe it’s time to give back to your community. But where do you start?

Do you want to help people help themselves? You might consider supporting Blueprints.

Do you want to help children get a head start or find an afterschool program? Blueprints.

Support foster care and adoption? Blueprints.

Support seniors? Blueprints.

Do you want to help eradicate poverty in our neighborhoods? Blueprints.

Blueprints, formerly known as Community Action Southwest, enables families and individuals to attain the skills, knowledge, motivation, and opportunities to become self-sufficient. Their four areas of service, Mind, Home, Health, and Wallet, feature programs that lift people out of poverty, addiction, or other circumstances.

They break barriers.

They build futures.

Fifty programs. Twenty thousand people helped each year. Twenty thousand people getting a hand up.

When Blueprints CEO Darlene Bigler returned to her hometown of Washington 27 years ago to lead the agency, it was in disarray. But it had one foundational support: its people. “We had an excellent staff committed to the community. They just needed direction and tools.”

To ensure the agency’s vision and long-term prospects, she recruited young professionals for her board of directors, looking for future influence makers. She took the organization’s budget from $11 million to $23 million, and the charity now employs 350 people. The initiatives, the vision, the implementation – they’re all local. No one is coming in from headquarters to tell our community what it needs or how to achieve it.

“We are very much a locally driven organization with a mission to assess our community and develop locally designed programs,” Bigler explained.

Her story started in college, when she volunteered to be a big sister in a rural community. When she went to meet the teenager, there were 15 girls in need of mentoring, and no volunteers. She took them all on.

Blueprints now takes on its mission: to be the catalyst to mobilize the entire community so families become self-sufficient. The success stories are all around you, living next door, pumping gas next to you, or sitting behind you in church.

Danielle came from a family that struggled with addiction and mental illness. The Getting Ahead program gave her the tools to pursue her dreams. Four other Blueprints programs helped along the way, and she successfully began college classes.

Now, she is counseling others because she understands their problems and their potential.

After a short lifetime of abuse, 5-year-old William was living with his grandparents. They could not handle his trauma. Blueprints caseworkers worked with the family and facilitated the involvement of a behavioral specialist. The family learned to love and accept one another and William’s grandparents adopted him.

Mark always struggled with finances, but when he lost his job, he made some bad choices and was briefly incarcerated. Blueprints helped him get an apartment and learn to budget his money. He has saved $2,700 and is now looking for a car.

With successes like these, the community has taken notice. Blueprints earned the top award in the Washington County Community Foundation’s Charity of Excellence initiative for its quality and variety of programming, volunteer engagement, and financial position over the past five years, among other criteria.

Like every other organization, the pandemic changed Blueprints’ focus, reflecting a greater need for career development, increased wages, and outstanding early childhood education.

For Darlene Bigler, her life’s work is coming to fruition.

“I am immensely proud. When participants change their lives, that makes everything I’ve ever done worthwhile. We have young parents bringing children to Head Start, and then they get involved and develop leadership skills. Some parents end up on school boards, pursuing post-secondary education, and eventually become professionals. They are gracious in attributing their success to being involved in the agency.”

Bigler is sure of her place in our community. “I could not imagine myself doing anything else. I am part of community action, and it’s the best fit for me.”

Blueprints is an integral part of our community, and it is the perfect fit for the people of Washington.

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