Berne Bendel, Board Member

Columbia Opportunities changed my life. As a young, new teacher, I worked for COI Head Start and it was through my employment there that I found my passion and purpose in social justice work. It is because of my work at COI that I sought to further my education with a focus on social justice, it’s intersections with teaching and education, and human services. I proudly graduated from SUNY New Paltz’s Humanistic and Multicultural Education and Human Services Master’s program in 2003, secured a position on the faculty of Columbia-Greene Community College and began teaching pre-service teachers with a focus on diversity, inclusion, and social change. COI first instilled in me the importance of these three things still drive our agency:  an appreciation and celebration of our human diversity, our willingness to meet each human where they are and include them fully into the larger community, and the commitment to work towards social equity and justice for all humans. It is an honor to be able to serve our community as a COI Board member and to be able to give back to an agency and a community that made such an impact on me.


Tina Sharpe, Executive Director, Columbia Opportunities

I grew up in a very different setting in Columbia County - my parents were part of a non-profit, a farm for young men who needed a different setting. So, I grew up in a diverse and supportive community. I saw the impact of that organization on a daily basis and knew that all I ever wanted to do was help people succeed. And that’s what I’ve been doing at Columbia Opportunities for 30 years. And it’s not over yet!