Helping People….Changing Lives

Fighting the war against poverty through empowerment, that’s what Chautauqua Opportunities is all about.

Chautauqua Opportunities is a nonprofit that believes in aiding those in need by providing a ladder in order to climb out of poverty; not through constant aid, but through the will of each person to strive to do better and become self-sufficient.

“We are really looking at advocating for them, and teaching them how to advocate, and providing services that will help lift them up,” said Diane Hewitt-Johnson, chief executive officer. Hewitt-Johnson has been with Chautauqua Opportunities for 15 years.

There are a multitude of services offered by the nonprofit for both children and adults.

“We have a safe house and transitional independent living programs,” Hewitt-Johnson said. “It’s right here in Jamestown. We work with the children and teach them various things. When they come stay with us, we have a washer and a dryer — we teach them how to do their own laundry and teach them how to cook.”

Some even qualify for the transitional independent living program, which is a program that helps individuals learn how to get jobs, live on their own, and move forward in life. “Empowering them to be who they can be,” Hewitt-Johnson reiterated.

Another important program offered by Chautauqua Opportunities is the Alzheimer’s Caregiver Program.

“We provide services to the caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients,” Hewitt-Johnson said. “If you’re caring for a family member, it’s stressful. We have support groups all over the county.”

Programs aren’t only available to those in need, but those who strive to do better. There are energy-saving and renovation programs; help with finding affordable housing; programs to help with getting out of a foreclosure; and programs to help individuals become homeowners by educating them on financial stability and independence and offering affordable mortgage products and services.

Hewitt-Johnson believes that empowering her staff is just as important as the empowerment her staff provides for the community.

“I always make sure I’m dropping in,” she said, noting two main office locations in Jamestown and Dunkirk. “Otherwise they don’t know who you are and they don’t think anyone cares what they’re doing. It’s important they know that they’re important to our agency. That’s the culture that I’m trying to build here.”

Building individuals up is the primary goal Chautauqua Opportunities focuses on.


“We really focus on building trust with them and focusing on their dignity,” she said. “We’re strength-based — we want to see where their strengths are and build upon that.”

Though the organization can offer suggestions and point in certain directions, all decisions are made by the individual him- or herself. It’s about the journey, about knowledge, about learning, and about rising above whatever is holding one down.

Some other important services provided by the organization are Head Start, preschool and child care programs up to age 5; a mobile crisis team available after hours (5 p.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday and 24/7 weekends and holidays); and even a branch of the organization called Chautauqua Opportunities for Development, which helps empower small businesses to thrive within the community.

For more information or to volunteer/donate, visit

Originally posted in the Post-Journal 2/14/2020 by Emmily Nelson.