Spotlight on Channell Wilkins, CEO of O.C.E.A.N Inc.

LRRC and Community Partners Spotlight Series

My background: I’ve worked on behalf of the community since way back in my college days, when I took time off between my sophomore and junior years to work at a CAP agency. You could say that I’ve always heard my calling in various forms of community organizing and government service, and for the past 20+ years, I’ve been working in government programming. I hope to continue doing this work full-time until I retire to enjoy the sun somewhere.

The agency: O.C.E.A.N Inc. has been around since the late 1960’s. We’re a community action agency, and we’re tasked with looking at the community to see where we can help. That means navigating systems, assessing needs, and utilizing resources to better the community.

Our mission: Our goal is simply to meet needs, and we’re always asking ourselves if we can do more. We don’t just do what we’ve got funding to do. Is there a void in the community, a need that hasn’t been met? If we can fit into that place, we reach out, even partnering with outside organizations to get the job done. For example, seniors are one group that we’ve targeted for assistance. Senior isolation is a real problem; for many of these folks, it can be as difficult as it is important to get out to medical appointments or social opportunities. O.C.E.A.N Inc. meets a need by partnering with Caregivers Volunteers, a non-profit organization that coordinates transportation for seniors to get to where they need to go, be it the doctor’s office, the community center, or even prayer services.

The programs: The programs that we provide really run the gamut. Home Energy and Weatherization provide financial assistance with utility bills as well as well as assistance in case of shut-off; housing assistance provides counseling for home buyers as well as up to $10,000 towards closing fees; and Head Start services children in preschool programs that furnish a quality education, nutrition services, and individual case management.

Up and coming: I’m particularly excited about our plans for Head Start, and I think I can let it slip that a brand-new facility on Cederbridge Avenue is in the pipeline. This new location will be run under the auspices of a local preschool director, and serve a much broader client base from Lakewood’s Orthodox community. Many more children will benefit from the top-notch preschool education [including an aleph-bais and Yahadus curriculum], trained Morahs’ loving care, and Kosher meals that are already enjoyed by local children at the Airport Road site. We’re dreaming big for this project, and it’s going to be big: we’ve got plans for an on-site full-service medical clinic, social services, and even a credit union bank with a range of banking services for the income-eligible population.

The returns: It’s always exciting when we can help our clients. If our assistance helps generate more disposable income for a client, that’s a win in our book. Fact is, though, that the numbers indicate benefits on an even larger scale; they show funders at the government level a return on investment that simply makes sense. Prevention is always cheaper than cure! When we help seniors get out to doctor’s appointments and social opportunities, in the long run we’re saving money for the healthcare system and the government. That’s what we’ve got to prove to justify our activities, and we do.

Memorable clients: I remember a fellow by the name of Henry, a veteran who enjoyed the services of the Caregivers Volunteers organization that we mentioned before. This man was 96 years old and a real gadabout, advocating for others to receive this type of aid. Actually, it’s something of a pattern; the best employees here are doing it to give back. One Head Start parent, who also became a homeowner through our program, worked her way up to become a L.E.A.P case manager, bringing the system full circle.

Our commitment: We’d like to think that people find an open door here, and that we’re that friendly face to turn to when there’s a need. We’re committed to continuing to serve the diverse communities of Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May counties; whether it is customer service or quality of life for local residents, we aim for responsiveness and responsibility toward our clients, our backers, and the community.

Spotlight on: Home Energy Efficiency Upgrade Programs

  • The Weatherization program conducts computerized energy audits to help reduce household energy costs. Weatherization services include determining the efficiency and possible replacement of your refrigerator, broken glass repair, weather-stripping, and caulking of doors and windows, insulation of attics, pipes, basements and crawlspaces, water heater jackets, furnace repair or replacement, water heater repair or replacement and new smoke and CO alarms. Weatherization services are available to income-eligible homeowners at no cost. Services are also available to income-eligible tenants, but the property owner will need to pay 50% of the cost. Although you can check off that you would like to apply for the Weatherization program on your HEAP/USF application, the Weatherization program has its own application, documentation requirements, and eligibility guidelines. If you want to apply for Weatherization, make sure to submit the correct application. For any questions, eligibility limits and an application, visit the LRRC office or website or walk into the Toms River O.C.E.A.N. Inc. office.
  • The NJ Clean Energy Program offers another home energy efficiency program called Comfort Partners, which has higher income limits than the Weatherization Program. They cover many of the same services as Weatherization with additional rebates for appliances, lighting, heating, and cooling, and also focus on some health and safety measures.
  • Recently, the Weatherization program has joined forces with the Comfort Partners program through Clean Energy, and the programs often work together. You can contact NJ Clean Energy at 888-773-8326 or for further details and to apply.

Spotlight on: Emergency Assistance

  • Between March 15 and August 31, a HEAP household that receives a shutoff notice for a gas bill may be eligible for emergency assistance either through the Ocean Inc. office or by visiting New Jersey Natural Gas at 775 Vassar Ave, Lakewood, NJ. This year the maximum gas benefit amount is $600.
  • O.C.E.A.N Inc. also provides emergency assistance for HEAP households that receive an electric shutoff notice. The maximum benefit amount is $200. To be eligible for the electric grant, you must have a heating bill in your name. The emergency assistance will not work if you set up a payment plan. To apply, visit the Lakewood or Toms River O.C.E.A.N Inc office and bring the shutoff notice with you.
  • Households that are above the income limits for HEAP can apply to NJ Shares for emergency assistance. Contact the LRRC for more information.

Did You Know?

  • O.C.E.A.N Inc. just opened a new location in Toms River (in addition to their 507 River Avenue location). Those closer to Toms River can walk into 1256 Indian Head Road in Home Depot Plaza.
  • If you have any trouble throughout the application or determination process for any of these programs, you can reach out to the LRRC for guidance.