Direct Support Professional Week – September 10 -16

Happy Direct Support Professional Recognition Week!

In honor of the important work our DSPs do each and every day, here are some extraordinary DSPs we are fortunate enough to have at Opportunity Partners.

Shannon Heier

Shannon has worked at Golden Opportunity as a Learning Options Instructor for three years. He came to Opportunity Partners after having worked previously in the disability sector. Shannon says his favorite thing about his job is the relationships he has built with the people served over the years and their shared experiences. “I have always had a passion for helping people, and in a DSP role, I get that opportunity. As a DSP, you make connections that last a lifetime.”

When asked about Shannon, Program Manager Heather Ofstehage says, “Shannon is compassionate, genuine, and person centered. He cares so much for the individuals we support! Shannon is a great team player, always helping out whenever and wherever needed. He is flexible and happily rearranges his schedule to accommodate last minute changes. Shannon is dependable and has a strong work ethic! Thanks for all you do Shannon!”

Casey Budke

Casey started at Opportunity Partners within the Independent Living Skills program as a Service Coordinator over five years ago. From then she transferred to the prevocational program in Brain Injury Services. She is now an Assistant Program Manager in Mendota Heights. Casey has been working with people with disabilities since she was in college and it has been a passion of hers for a long time.

She says, “I love seeing the people we support achieve their goals. I love visiting with the people we support about their days and seeing the excitement on their face when they have a great day. I also enjoy supporting people through rough days and being a consistent staff member that they can count on. I love hearing funny stories and jokes from the people served – it always seems to brighten my day.”


Shirel Paulick

Shirel has been with Opportunity Partners for 15 years! She is currently a Transportation Assistant in our Anoka Day Training and Habilitation program. Before becoming a Direct Support Professional, she did not know much about what a DSP does, but now she says she cannot imagine doing anything else. Her uncle had cerebral palsy and told Shirel that she would be great at taking care of others with disabilities. Therefore, when it was suggested she work at Opportunity Partners, she did! Shirel says her favorite thing about her job is, “improving people’s lives and trying to always put a smile on their face.”


Amanda Harris

Amanda is currently an Assistant Program Manager at hoMEbase – Westside. She has been with Opportunity Partners for a little over five years. She has always wanted to help people and make a difference, so when a friend of hers told her about Opportunity Partners, she knew she had to apply!

Amanda says, “I love working with the people served. They make me laugh every day. I don’t always know what to expect but I love it! My job is rarely boring. Seeing all the successes in the lives of the people I support is amazing, both the little everyday successes and the big ones! It is a joy to be able to walk with people in their daily lives in the difficult times and the easier times. I love having fun at work and the people served make my job fun!”


Jordan Pearson

Jordan has been with Opportunity Partners for nearly two years. He started in our residential program at Pleasant House in Richfield before moving to the Koch Campus as a Service Coordinator. Working with people with disabilities was something that Jordan started while he was in college. He says, “I was not sure how it would go at first, but I knew I loved it after the first day.” Jordan appreciates that his skills as a Direct Support Professional are valued and that contributes to his love of the work.

“The people I work with both on my caseload and the co-workers that I work with every day are my favorite things about my job. Every day there is something different to look forward to when coming into work. I have built relationships with my caseload and co-workers to the point where we feel supported and comfortable to work side by side as a team and know that we are always there to help each other when needed.”


Your vocation is not a vacation

August 29, 2017

By Nate Meissner, Vocational Services Intake Coordinator, Manager of Evaluation & Transitions

“The reason a lot of people do not recognize opportunity is because it usually goes around wearing overalls looking like hard work” – Thomas Edison

Why do we work?

This is a question my guidance counselor asked me back when iPods had black and white screens. I responded, “It’s how we get our money,” which, for the record, I still believe is a very good reason to work. I ask this same question to the students who participate in Opportunity Partners’ work experience program. Most respond the same way I did when I was their age. However, sometimes I get an answer more noteworthy than my own. One student responded that we work because “it’s how we make things better.”

I sometimes ponder her answer when I meet new students and they explain their employment goals. How can they make things better for themselves first and then for the rest of us?

In our work experience program, students get the opportunity to work for a month at a job site that interests them. Most students are eager to try new experiences so they can determine their vocation. However, occasionally, I meet students who are searching for jobs that must directly correlate with their favorite things and most innate passions. They would like to design video games (but no coding work, please), groom horses (but no cleaning work, please), or take care of people (but no senior care, please). Many of their career goals simply do not exist, but this doesn’t mean they should not pursue their passions and also make things better. It just means we have to redefine passion.

Terri Trespicio proclaims, “Passion is not a job, a sport, or a hobby. It is the full force of your attention and energy that you give to whatever’s right in front of you, and if you are so busy looking for this passion you could miss opportunities that change your life”. Stop searching for your passion

Making things better is work, and most of the time its hard work, but it is worth the effort. I have a lot of hopes and goals for my students. My main goal is for them to experience the significance of work in all of its fluctuations. I hope they come to an understanding that each job brings value to our world in its own distinctive way. Acknowledging the inherent value within every job is far more liberating than searching for the perfect job, because no job will be perfect until our focus is.

This does not mean students should be pushed into careers they have no interest in. It just means we have to encourage each other to take risks, do difficult things, get our hands dirty, fail, and above all be willing to attempt endeavors that might not be the perfect fit. We need to experience the value of the overalls instead of relentlessly pursuing the tailor-made suit. This is the first step in making things better. (And you get paid too).

7 reasons why we love our pet policy

August 14, 2017

By Tiana Daun, Digital Strategy & Communications Specialist

Over a year ago, Opportunity Partners adopted a pet policy, in hopes of boosting staff retention. A study done by the University of Kentucky* cites that workplace pets reduce stress levels and positively influence employees’ health, job satisfaction and organizational issues like productivity and employee morale. The study also claims that pets make working environments more comfortable and create positive impressions of organizations.

Dozens of OP employees bring their pet into work with them (some pets come in every day), and from what we can see – the University of Kentucky was right! See what our employees have to say about our pet policy:


“Mikko should be on the OP payroll for all of the roles he plays at my group homes. He attends medical appointments, helps the residents fall asleep, and helps with anxiety – so much that instead of choosing to take anxiety medicine, a resident will choose to have Mikko sit on her lap. Mikko, Mingo, Rico, or Pekko – he answers to all of them and always shows up for his shifts.” – Lori Arnold, Program Manager

“I really like bringing Adrian because she acts as a stress reliever. At Koch we will say we need a ‘dog break’ when things get stressful! I also love seeing her interact with the people served. She always brings a smile to their face!” – Amy Beyer, Training and Development Specialist

“I love bringing in my cats! The look on people’s faces when they see the kittens is priceless. It brings a little bit of home into work and is a stress reliever for me and others.” – Andrea Nemitz, Service Coordinator Support Staff

“Jasper is an amazing stress reliever for the people we serve. When people are having a bad day, they come to my office for a ‘Jasper fix.’ He certainly lives up to his name, which means, ‘sustains and supports during stressful times’ (according to PetMD).” – Elise Dahl, Service Coordinator

“I get way more visitors to my desk when I bring Pemberley in, which creates good vibes all around! She’s a very easy-going cat and brings my work energy to a calm and relaxed pace.” – Kayleigh Karppinen, HR Generalist

“Being able to have my dog makes me feel better in knowing he isn’t stuck at home all by himself, and seeing how happy he makes the persons served and other employees here when they get to see him is a real joy.” – Matt Thiede, SET Site Supervisor

“I love being able to bring my dogs into work with me. It’s stress relieving for me and great socialization for them. There are many smiles and waves from the people we serve and fellow staff when walking around. It’s a great way to make connections and bring extra positivity to the day.” – Heather Brooks, Graphic & Web Design Specialist


Stacie at the podium at the 2017 OP Gala.

Our 2017 Gala drew more than 400 guests and raised nearly $300,000. Your generous contributions help us carry out our mission of advancing the quality of life for people with disabilities.


Pleasant house residents

We purchased a new residence on Pleasant Avenue in Richfield to replace our Webster house. The new home is larger and more accessible for the four residents.

Community living with confidence

July 31, 2017 

By Julie Peters, Communications Director

As a sports enthusiast, Justin Kunz appreciates the values of training and working as a team.

Whether he’s cheering on the Minnesota Twins or finishing a 5K wheelchair race, the 39-year-old has found these values in his home life too – from Opportunity Partners’ Independent Living Skills (ILS) program. With just four hours of staff support per week, Justin has the training and teamwork he needs to live very independently.

Justin has cerebral palsy and brain injuries from medical complications, resulting in short-term memory and balance issues. He walks with a cane and uses a wheelchair to participate in races. His apartment in downtown St. Paul provides him quick access to his job in records management at an insurance company, where he works 26 hours a week.

Opportunity Partners’ ILS program provides one-to-one assistance to help people achieve or maintain independence. Goals can include self-care, mobility, sensory and motor development, socialization and more. In Justin’s case, Opportunity Partners staff help him manage his calendar, medical appointments, banking, paperwork, grocery shopping and cooking.

He has made huge strides over the nearly 15 years that Opportunity Partners has supported him. “It used to take us two hours to balance my checkbook,” he recalls. “Six months later, I knew I was making progress is when I could do it myself.”

He needed more help early on, but over time as he settled into living independently he was able to cut back on his hours with staff. “My staff said, ‘You’ve outgrown me.’ That was the ultimate compliment.”

Now, Justin knows he can do most things on his own but Opportunity Partners is by his side to assist when needed. “I feel more secure, more confident if there’s someone behind me if I need help,” he said. “Opportunity Partners has been really good for me.”

Join us for the Success Celebration!

You are invited to the 2017 Success Celebration! Join us on Sunday, September 17 at the Hyland Hills Chalet in Bloomington  for an afternoon celebrating the outstanding individuals we serve at Opportunity Partners.

Tickets are $8 per person and can be purchased online. Please contact with any questions.Success Celebration will be Sunday, September 17, 2017.

Schedule of events:

  • 3:00 p.m. – check-in, games & dance
  • 4:30 p.m. – awards program
  • 5:00 p.m. – dinner

Why I work at OP

July 18, 2017 

By Claire Westberg, Service Coordinator, Asplin Center

My name is Claire Westberg and I work at Opportunity Partners – Asplin Center and I’m a Service Coordinator. I usually try to start my morning with the not so fun stuff like billing and paperwork, getting that entered into the system. Everyone always comes to your office in the morning, when they get here to say hi, it’s a very positive way to start your day.

Claire and Craig

I think my role as a Service Coordinator…I’ve kind of heard it referred to as an in-house case manager because you do so many different things. We’re really coordinating services, dealing with communicating with people’s families, helping people with their schedule. Really I’m here to make sure people have good days, helping them with whatever goals they may have.

I love my job at OP, every day is different. There’s opportunity for growth, which is really cool. I’ve been with the company for a little over two years, and I’ve had three different roles. It’s a really cool feeling to feel like you’re moving up in an organization that you really support and believe in. I really feel that I’ve build great relationships with the people served, and especially the people on my caseload. Not only do I have really great relationships with the people that I support, but relationships with their family. There’s a lot of trust there.

It’s definitely important to have a really good relationship with the people you support, otherwise how are you going to support them?

See Claire in action in a Day in the Life video. OP is always looking for great people to join our team! View our current openings.

Our award-winning team

June 26, 2017

Opportunity Partners staff earned three statewide awards this month, demonstrating  professional, person-centered qualities that make us proud to have them on our team.

ARRM Cares winners Nancy Grayson and Josiah Early with Opportunity Partners President & CEO Armando Camacho.

Josiah Early and Nancy Grayson were among six ARRM Cares winners out of nearly 100 nominees statewide. Each year, the Association of Residential Resources in Minnesota (ARRM) honors the best direct support professionals in Minnesota. Josiah and Nancy show outstanding compassion and professionalism. ARRM produced videos about the winners – you can view them here.

Lisa Vitkus was named Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR) Metro Employment Service award winner. As an Opportunity Partners job developer, Lisa believes in every person she serves.

At the MOHR conference (from left) Calli Kadlec, Nancy Wagner, Lisa Vitkus, Paul Fredendall, Armando Camacho and Lori Schluttenhofer.

Through her service at Opportunity Partners, she has impacted the lives of more than 160 people with disabilities by helping them secure independent, community jobs.

Congratulations to Josiah, Nancy and Lisa for their dedication to people with disabilities!

What independence means to me

June 29, 2017

By Julie Peters, Director of Communications

Each day, Opportunity Partners helps nearly 2,000 people with disabilities live and work more independently in our communities. In recognition of Independence Day, we asked individuals to share what independence means to them.

From choosing where to go out to eat, what music to listen to, participation in activities like Special Olympics, and where to work, people shared their thoughts about independence.

  • “I made choices on my own.” – Sandy
  • I feel more independent when I’m: “Swimming and bowling, helping others, being a good friend …  respecting people’s boundaries.” – Meaghan
  • “To get to places on my own – city bus!” – Ashlee
  • “Be your own boss.” – Crispus
  • “Karaoke! Singing.” – Kerry
  • “I like to clean my own room and do laundry. Staff help me budget my money.” – Denise
  • “I choose to work.” – Ken
  • “I work at Lunds. I bag the groceries and carry them out to the car.” – John
  • “I like to buy something that I want.” – Rachael
  • “I follow the grocery list with my PCA and I schedule my own rides on Metro.” – Angela
  • “Doing sports like bowling, going to garage sales, working out and grocery shopping.” – Greg
  • “I make and tell my own order at Subway.” – Jennifer
  • “I pick out my own clothes.  I go shopping for them at Mall of America.” – Lisa
  • “Brush my teeth on my own now because of staff.” – May
  • “Staff teaches me how to put makeup on, and they teach me hygiene.  I learn to advocate for myself.” – Sharon

What does independence mean to you?
Share your ideas at

“I live on my own. I go to the store to buy my food. It makes me feel good to be independent. I feel responsible.” – Debbie

“My mom took me to Target and waited in the car so I could go inside and buy her a present to surprise her for her birthday. It made me feel proud and excited.”  Krystyna

“I make apple pie.”  Jessica

“I help walk the dog.” Joey

“I do my own laundry and go out by myself, or use the computer independently.” – Sherry

Inspiration is everywhere around me

June 19, 2017

By Tiana Daun, Digital Strategy and Communications Specialist

At any given time, our organization has dozens of job openings, mostly for Direct Support Professionals (DSPs). DSPs truly make up the heart of our organization. The impact that they make is immeasurable and we need them now more than ever.

The relationships that DSPs build with the people we support at Opportunity Partners are crucial. DSPs ensure that people are happy, safe and valued – and living their best life. In my role, I am fortunate enough to witness these developing relationships firsthand. This year, we are continuing our “A Day in the Life” video series – where we chronicle what it is like to work at Opportunity Partners. For the videos, I follow staff members around for a day and interview them, asking about the roles they play, what they like about their jobs, and the impact they make.

Filming these videos has been incredibly eye opening for me. I remember being present for a particular conversation in which a person served confides in a staff member about how she is upset another staff member is leaving. This woman was in tears explaining how much she will miss the staff member. This scene was not filmed, but it really struck a chord with me. It then became more evident to me that the high staff turnover rates for DSPs throughout the disability service industry nationwide hurts the people that we support, and that’s why we need our DSPS now more than ever.

Another thing that becomes clear in filming these videos is that EVERY SINGLE PERSON says that their favorite part of the job is building relationships with the people we support. For example, Gloria says, “I like my job because I basically get to visit some of the coolest people. It’s really cool to watch them succeed and prove that they can do it. I just feel like I belong here.”

Take a look at Gloria’s video featuring a job visit with Kelly at Lunds and Byerlys. Gloria works as a job developer and over several months, has built a trusting relationship with Kelly.

If you or someone you know is looking for a job where you can make a difference every day, check out our job openings online.

2017 Legislative Session ends with wins, losses

June 5, 2017

By Sara Grafstrom, Director of Government Relations and Member Advocacy, ARRM

The 2017 Legislative Session and Special Session officially has come to a close, with the Governor signing the nine budget bills that will fully fund the government, avoiding a potential government shutdown. Among those bills is the Health and Human Services Omnibus bill which resulted in an overall $463 million cut and contains some wins and losses for ARRM members and the disability community.

There were a number of important and beneficial long-term policy reforms included in the final Health and Human Service Omnibus bill. Despite the large cut to Health and Human Services, ARRM was able to work with leadership in both the House and Senate to ensure its policies remained priorities during final negotiations. Many important changes to the Disability Waiver Rate System were maintained in the final agreement, as well as ARRM’s language addressing Intermediate Care Facility open beds.

The biggest disappointment for ARRM members this session was the Best Life Alliance’s request for an across the board immediate rate increase not being included in the final budget bill. ARRM heard from many legislators throughout the session that the Best Life Alliance was the top issue that they hear about from their constituents. While it does not make up for another year without an immediate rate increase, please know that your stories were heard and listened to and in no doubt helped push forward and pass the long term reforms contained within Disability Waiver Rate System this session.

The Best Life Alliance is regrouping and will be reaching out to supporters in the weeks ahead with more information on what is next for the coalition.

Finally, ARRM successfully passed its policy bill this session (S.F. 359), moving from the House and Senate floors with unanimous support. The bill was presented to the Governor on May 26 and was signed on May 31. It contains many important provisions helpful to disability service providers.

Beginning this month, ARRM staff will be traveling around the state, updating, educating and training members on the changes that happened during the legislative session. It is during these trainings that we look forward to hearing from members about what they view as the future of our industry and what they would like ARRM to focus on in the 2018 Legislative Session and the years after.

ARRM is a nonprofit association of more than 200 providers, businesses and advocates dedicated to leading the advancement of community-based services that support people living with disabilities in their pursuit of meaningful lives. Founded in 1970, ARRM continues to lead positive industry reforms that support Minnesotans with disabilities.

Annual gala inspires 400 during incredible evening

May 22, 2017

By Grace Brennan, Donor Relations & Events Manager

Opening Minds. Changing Lives. Together. That saying could not have been truer than on Saturday, May 20 when more than 400 Opportunity Partners champions gathered for our annual gala. This spectacular celebration blended inspiring family stories, exciting silent and live auctions, delicious food, and generous guests and sponsors who support our mission of advancing the quality of life for people with disabilities.

Here are a few excerpts from families who shared their “mission moments” at the event.

“I can’t begin to tell you what a difference OP has made in our lives. … As a mom, it has always been scary to think about what will happen to Stacie when I’m gone. It means so much for me to know that with the support of Opportunity Partners, Stacie will be OK.” – Sharrol Dziedzic

“Our lives have not only been blessed by having Annie as our daughter, but we are also blessed to have such a wonderful program which enriches and gives so much meaning to Annie’s life.” – Therese Hetchler

“We all want and need a community – a place of safety where we belong – a feeling of fellowship with others and where we share common interests, attitudes and goals. Zach has this community in Opportunity Partners, and we are grateful.” – Katy Thuleen

Special thank you to our 2017 Gala Committee, our corporate sponsors, table hosts, event donors and volunteers. I also want to give a shout out to our co-emcee Stacie Dziedzic, Glen Fladeboe of Fladeboe Auctions, and everyone who turned out to make the evening truly unforgettable! We’ll be sharing results and more photos very soon!

Gearing up for our largest event!

May 8, 2017

By Brie Geurink, Vice President, Advancement

Opportunity Partners is so excited that our gala is right around the corner! Next week on Saturday, May 20, we will transform the Koch Campus production floor into a beautiful event. This is our biggest fundraiser of the year, and gives attendees a firsthand look at what their support can do.

We are thrilled with the generous support we have received from so many sponsors. Opportunity Partners values these partnerships and are very grateful for their contributions. Our sponsors* are:

  • Ascent Private Capital Management
  • U.S. Bank
  • Barbara G. Koch
  • Boston Scientific
  • Chris & Leslie Neugent
  • Graco
  • Marsden Services
  • Midwest Vending
  • Ryan Companies
  • Sweet Harvest Foods
  • Teddy Spencer & Family
  • Wells Fargo
  • UnitedHealth Group
  • Atlas Staffing Inc.
  • Avison Young
  • Engineered Products Company
  • Kraus-Anderson Construction Company
  • Midwest Staffing Group
  • Nilan Johnson Lewis
  • Nordic Ware
  • Thiel Anderson Kukla
  • Uponor
  • Willis Towers Watson

We have about 350 people attending the event – and excitingly we know that we have a great mix of previous attendees and new! Our guests will enjoy a reception with a silent auction, followed by a program that is very mission focused and co-emceed by Armando Camacho, President & CEO and Stacie Dziedzic, a person served in our Anoka community living program. There are several live auction items from a VIP Twins suite to a weeklong stay in Colorado. We have parents speaking about their experience with OP, and will show a video telling the story of Tori Soosai, who with the support of OP was able achieve her goals.
We hope to see you at the gala on May 20 and look forward to sharing results, photo and the video afterwards!

*sponsors as of April 27

Recognizing Autism Awareness Month

April 24, 2017

By Jackie Helm, Service Coordinator

You may have seen that April is Autism Awareness Month. Autism Speaks is hosting their Light it up Blue campaign, landmarks across the world turned blue to create awareness, and Sesame Street debuted Julia, a character on the Autism Spectrum. Opportunity Partners, along with these organizations and others across the world, are happy to celebrate! Today I am happy to share the stories of three incredible individuals we support at Opportunity Partners – Karlins Center.

Eva may be one of the oldest people at Karlins Center, but she is young at heart. Eva enjoys watching The Wizard of Oz, lacing activities, cooking, Legos, drinking tea, community outings and puzzles. She has been with OP since 2004; over the years, she has developed trusting relationships with others and now advocates for herself. She also has learned how to share with her peers and has discovered the joy of friendship. Eva is kind, vibrant and energetic woman.

Corbin is a friendly young woman whose smile lights up a room. She enjoys sorting objects by color, movement activities, community outings, Barney and full house. Currently Corbin’s favorite community outings are Como Zoo, local parks and The Humane Society. Corbin has also been with us since 2004 and over years, she has increased her vocabulary, learned how to identify colors, began to advocate for the things she wants and needs and has begun to develop friendships with others.

Last year, Eric began showing an interest in community employment. Shortly after meeting with the OP job development team, he was o¬ffered a job at a Holiday Stationstore in Plymouth. Eric began his job earlier this year as a sales associate/food specialist. He works three times a week, taking care of the coffee and soda station. Eric’s manager describes him as a quick learner who consistently does his job well. The employees at Holiday state that Eric fits in perfectly and they are happy that he is part of the team. Working at Holiday has given Eric the confidence to develop positive relationships at work and at OP. He says that he loves his job at Holiday and enjoys earning his own money to buy items like movies and snacks.

We at Karlins-Center are so proud of Eva, Corbin and Eric’s accomplishments. It has been amazing watching their development and we cannot wait to see what happens next.

You can learn more about Autism Awareness Month on the Autism Society’s website.

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