Celebrating success

OP’s annual Success Celebration, held on September 15 at the Hyland Hills Chalet in Bloomington, recognized “Out of This World Success” with awards in the categories of Impact, Choice, Heart, Partnership and Spirit.

Armando pictured with Success Celebration winners Warren (Spirit ), Alan (Partnership) and Torin (Impact).

Whether landing a new job, increasing independence at home, advocating for one’s beliefs, or achieving a major goal, these successes all enhance quality of life.

Impact Award – for creating positive influence through volunteering, education and work.

Torin earned the Impact Award for his achievements in competitive, integrated employment.

After taking classes and gaining work skills on the Best Buy Supported Employment Team, he made the choice to enroll in employment services and began his journey to independent employment. He explored a variety of opportunities before zeroing in on Home Depot as his employment goal. He wanted a job where he could help people and that was close to home.  He identified the lot attendant position at the Richfield Home Depot as a good match for his skills and goals.

With a little support, he completed the application, nailed it on his interview and accepted the position he wanted. Recently, Torin was credited by a parent as being an inspiration to a peer by sharing job experiences and encouraging his peer to participate in our employment program called Together Works Better. Recently, when asked if he would like to be a peer mentor for an employment exploration participant, Torin said yes without hesitation. In the words of the mentee, “Torin had a lot of information for me. Torin was helpful about employment. He was very kind and patient about answering the questions that I asked.  I feel more confident.”

Choice Award – for building a self-directed life.

Emily earned the Choice Award for committing to a budget. A few months ago, Emily’s staff helped her figure out a budget. The staff didn’t hear anything about it for a while until she asked Emily one day about it. Emily told staff she had been following the budget, hadn’t over-drafted her checking account, and had managed to save $600! She even told staff that she has now become addicted to saving!

Emily is working hard to plan for future emergencies and events and is excited to be able to provide for her family. Emily’s choice to manage her finances is paying off in big ways. 

Heart Award – for promoting the dignity and worth of others.

Ken C. earned the Heart Award for being such a hard worker and a good person. In June, Opportunity Partners’ Ensign House – Ken’s home- was destroyed in a fire. He has experienced several moves since then, including staying at an extended stay hotel and finally a group home being leased from another organization, while Opportunity Partners is working on a permanent housing solution for Ken and his housemates. In spite of this tragic situation, Ken has still been coming to work daily and working hard. He is also helpful to staff and to the people who work around him. Ken was nominated in the Heart category because of the courage he has displayed while dealing with the disruption, and for giving it his all in spite of such trying circumstances.

Partnership Award – fostering relationships to enrich one’s life or the community.

Alan earned the Partnership Award for his growth in independence. Over the last year Alan has worked hard to make his own choices and create opportunities for growth for himself. The key to this growth has come from learning how to manage his Metro Mobility rides independently. In the past, Alan depended on staff at OP and at home to manage his rides and activities for him. Since learning how to set up demand rides, Alan is active every weekend and has started inviting other persons served by OP to movies, restaurants and shopping.

He has created a social group that regularly meets up to get coffee or watch movies. Alan has become more independent over the last year and takes a great amount of pride in planning activities.

Spirit Award – personifying Opportunity Partners’ mission, vision and values in daily life.

Warren earned the Spirit Award for keeping a positive attitude during times of change. He’s maintaining relationships, advocating for himself, and promoting other’s value and worth as well.

Last fall, Warren discovered that after 20 years of living in a home with two other men, he would have to move out. Opportunity Partners had provided in-home staff for Warren and his roommates every morning and evening, seven days a week. Warren was accustomed to and relied on having staff readily available. Fortunately, Warren and one of his roommate’s teams were able to find an apartment for the two of them to continue living together. When they transitioned to this apartment, Warren adapted to not having staff available every day. He has become more independent and self-sufficient.

Warren has handled all of these changes and more with an upbeat and enthusiastic nature. He is a wonderful communicator and advocates for himself on a daily basis. He is also an avid volunteer for events throughout the year, and has not let all the changes slow him down.

Special thanks to the OP Person Served Recognition Committee for all their hard work in planning the Success Celebration. They include: Hannah Woodie, Emily McDonald, Jesse Millard-Dernell, Shari Mason, Heather Brueske, Colette Durr, Katie Sullivan and Joshua Haider.



The Right Talent, Right Now

October’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) aims to educate about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. This year’s theme is “The Right Talent, Right Now.”

Finding the “Right Talent, Right Now” is more important today than ever before with workforce shortages across many industries ranging from disability services and health care to manufacturing, food and retail. Meanwhile, nationwide the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is said to be more than twice the rate of the general population.

We help businesses by recommending candidates with disabilities for direct hires or providing supervised teams of workers. We have people ready and eager to work. We provide the training and ongoing support as needed. Throughout October, we’ll be sharing stories of inclusion and celebrating the abilities of all workers.

Darren handles his cashiering duties at Target with skill, moving customers through the line with speed and accuracy. His talents have been recognized by his supervisors, and in January he was promoted to be a trainer of new cashiers. He has been a loyal Target employee for 13 years!  Over the years he has worked in the deli, as a cart attendant, and as a stocker before moving up to cashier. He has an excellent memory, knowing most of the produce codes which means he doesn’t have to take the time to look at the label before entering in the code. This speeds up his line, which customers appreciate. Way to go, Darren!

For Danielle, finding a job that aligns with her personal goals and values fills her heart with happiness. Danielle recently celebrated one year at KinderCare child care center, where she works as a classroom instructor. “I’ve always felt this is the field I need to be in,” Danielle said. “I relate well to the families, and the kids are great.” Opportunity Partners helped set the stage for success by offering Danielle job readiness training and skills for independence. After starting as a classroom assistant at KinderCare, Danielle worked hard to pass the necessary classes to obtain certification to be an independent classroom instructor. “I’m very proud of myself,” she said. “I’m also very blessed and grateful.” Congratulations, Danielle!

Torin wanted a job close to home where he could help people and make a difference. With Opportunity Partners’ support, he landed a position as a lot attendant at Home Depot, which proved to be a great match for his skills and goals. Torin also stepped up to mentor a peer who was exploring employment opportunities, demonstrating kindness and patience as he answered questions about his job experiences. His achievements recently earned him an Impact Award from Opportunity Partners! Great job, Torin!

“I love working here,” said Trisha, happy to work for an organization that values teamwork and inclusion. Opportunity Partners has collaborated with Silvercrest Properties for more than 15 years. The senior housing management company has hired 10 employees from OP throughout the years at several locations, including Park Shore Campus, Village Shore Campus and others. Trisha’s duties include dining room and dish room support, helping operations run smoothly. We are so grateful for dedicated employees like Trisha!

Nicole works four days a week at various Opportunity Partners Supported Employment Team sites, including Life Fitness and Medtronic CRMD. “I like that I get to work at multiple sites so I am able to have variety in my days,” Nicole said. Her staff describe her as a go-getter, who is punctual and has great attendance. Nicole also is a strong support for her peers on the job, using her skills to help train others. Sounds like a model employee! Great job, Nicole!

The history of NDEAM traces back to 1945 when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

“Every day, individuals with disabilities add significant value and talent to our workforce and economy,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta. “Individuals with disabilities offer employers diverse perspectives on how to tackle challenges and achieve success. Individuals with disabilities have the right talent, right now.”

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month

The purpose of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is to educate about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. This year’s theme is “The Right Talent, Right Now.”

The history of NDEAM traces back to 1945 when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

“Every day, individuals with disabilities add significant value and talent to our workforce and economy,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta. “Individuals with disabilities offer employers diverse perspectives on how to tackle challenges and achieve success. Individuals with disabilities have the right talent, right now.”

Throughout October, OP will share stories of inclusion and celebrate the abilities of all.


Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week is Sept. 8-14

We’ll be celebrating our DSPs all week, introducing you to just a few of our superstars and recognizing the work they do to support people with disabilities. Thank you, DSPs! 

Meet Patrick Gambill-Read, who has worked for OP for three years. As an in-home services lead, he says, “I like the variety of being able to work in more than one setting, the opportunity to work 1:1 … and the joys and challenges that come from supporting people toward more independent living in their community.” Thank you, Patrick!

Connie Phonesavanh has worked for the last year as a life skills instructor at OP-Karlins Center. “I love building a rapport with the people served and knowing that they care about your life outside of work. It is the simple things they do and say that makes me smile.”  Thank you, Connie!

Nick Jensen has worked for OP nine years, supporting people in competitive employment at businesses throughout the Twin Cities Metropolitan area. “I love getting to know the people on my caseload and helping people discover the joy of independence and job satisfaction.” Thank you, Nick!

Dianna Hamilton has 23 years of service to OP! She discovers new community volunteer sites for her classes at OP-Asplin Center and supports people as they experience the satisfaction of helping others. “I strongly believe in helping the people we serve to become as independent as possible in whatever it may be and to keep progressing, stretching them in growth, giving them a purpose, learning more about themselves, and being the best advocates they can be.” Thank you, Dianna!

Jackie Helm is celebrating six years with OP, supporting individuals at our Karlins Center. “Through various activities and community outings, I am able to get a better understanding of what brings individuals joy as well as what they hope to achieve in the future. I also enjoy bringing my dog to work. It’s fun watching people light up when they realize he is here for a visit.” Thank you, Jackie!

Why we’re better together

We recently held a professional photo shoot at Opportunity Partners to capture new images for use in our marketing and communications efforts. We gathered a group of enthusiastic persons served and staff, and everyone had a great time, posing and laughing together.

Staff and persons served enjoyed a morning of photos and laughter.

In between photos, we asked participants what they enjoy about Opportunity Partners and how they think we meet our mission of advancing their quality of life. Here’s what they said:

“I like my staff; they make me laugh,” said Jack. “I make new friends here.” For two years, Jack has been working at a local movie theater with support from Opportunity Partners. “I’ve been Employee of the Month,” he added.

For Yohan, he looks back at his 10 years at Opportunity Partners with a smile. “It’s amazing,” he said. “I like to see my staff and mingling with people. They call me a social butterfly.” He recently started a new job stocking at a Hopkins grocery store.

For Dayna, Opportunity Partners has helped her accept change in her life. “I’ve grown, I’ve matured,” she said. “I’m still learning as a person with a disability.” She’s exploring looking for community work, with OP’s help.

Ari said OP expands her social network. “I like my friends, I like my staff,” she said. “OP makes me feel happy inside.” Ari especially enjoys her OP outings to places like book stores and museums around town.

For Amber, she couldn’t wait to start at Opportunity Partners after hearing about it from a friend. “I heard OP was a good place. I like meeting new friends here. My service coordinator helped me find a community job at Boston Scientific.”

Aaron said he appreciates his staff who are “tough but fair.” He also enjoys working. “I like to be motivated by work.”

Christi said OP has broadened her world. “I am learning about my community more and seeing what’s out in front of you.”

Even after we wrapped up the successful photo shoot and went back to our daily routines, our smiles remained. We can’t wait to share the photos with you over the coming months. Together, we are better!

By Julie Peters, Communications Director

Report to the Community now available

You help us make an impact, provide choice, lead with heart and create partnerships! Our Report to the Community showcases success stories and milestones from 2018, and how you helped us support nearly 1,500 people with disabilities throughout our community.

With your help, anything is possible as we work together to advance the quality of life for people with disabilities. Together, we are better! Read more here.

Celebrating our amazing team

Together, we are better! We recently celebrated milestone anniversaries of 39 of our wonderful Opportunity Partners staff members.

With an amazing combined 365 years of service to the mission of OP, it is truly humbling to reflect on the dedication of these individuals who have committed 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 and even 30 years to OP!

Employees celebrating anniversaries were recognized at a July luncheon.

Representing all areas of the organization, including residential, day program, work skills and administration, these employees have touched nearly every part of our company. Some started as temporary workers and have advanced to management positions. Some started in the program area and transferred into new opportunities in finance or other administrative areas. All have given their time and talent to advance the quality of life for people with disabilities.

Here’s what they said at a luncheon on July 9 in their honor.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to work with our persons served. I love them.” – Mike Mueller, transportation (20 years)

“We all work together as a team to support people.” – Sam Dennis, residential ( 5 years)

“It’s been a fun 5 years. There’s been some great challenges.” – Putheavy Nop, production (5 years)

“I really enjoy it. (OP) makes my heart soar. It fills me up and makes me really happy.” – Kelly Laignel, employment and residential (5 years)

“I love working here. I never thought I’d be in finance but it’s pretty great,” – Sheena Schar, finance (10 years)

“I love OP. It has been a great 10 years.” – Nicki Hennessey, day programs (10 years)

“I’m really grateful for everyone who works here.” – Jennie Davis, day programs (20 years)

“I like to connect with the guys at the houses.” – Anastanciah Mose (10 years)

Do you want to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities?

We have many job openings! Join our team.

Fire update – your help is appreciated!

Our community is embracing us after the June 12 fire at OP’s Ensign Residence in New Hope. Our insurance adjusters have declared the house a total loss, and we are assessing whether to rebuild at the site or purchase a different home. Meanwhile, the residents have settled into longer-term housing and are just coming to grips with the loss of their home and possessions.

You can help us move forward for Jim, Ken and Ken, who called Ensign their home for more than 20 years. Even with OP’s insurance coverage, we know there will be significant gaps in uncovered costs. Your support is critical.

Our goal is to raise up to $300,000 to rebuild or purchase a new home. Thanks to the heartwarming generosity of an OP family, your gift will be matched, up to $50,000.

Many of you have asked how you can help. Yes, you CAN make a difference!

Support the Ensign House Fire Fund

Link to CCX Media Story

Working together for success

OP provides important step in process

Our community is better when we all work together.

Cannon Equipment, a Marmon/Berkshire Hathaway Company, helps companies improve their operations and gain efficiencies by designing custom material handling carts, equipment, conveyance and aftermarket parts. Their commitment to community is strong.

Rick works on weighing bags of sand to fill test boxes.

Rick works on weighing bags of sand to fill test boxes.

Like Opportunity Partners, the people at Cannon Equipment are problem-solvers at heart. They needed to assemble “test pallets,” which are sent with each new conveyor system. The boxes require a specific weight of sand inside, and colored dots and bar codes on each box to be detected by the conveyor system. Cannon Equipment found it difficult to keep up with the demand for the box assembly so turned to OP to help solve their workforce challenge.

OP recommended a Vendor Managed Inventory program, which allows a seamless solution. OP handles the procurement of the materials and assembles the pallets to Cannon Equipment’s forecast.

This project is a great example of OP teamwork as each step allows people with varied skill levels to contribute. One day recently, Rick scooped sand into bags and weighed them, while Alex taped boxes. Meanwhile, Rebecca and Victor stuck dots and bar codes onto boxes and stacked them on a pallet. In all, OP has assembled more than 17,000 boxes since starting the job last summer.

John Evans, Cannon Equipment’s Director of HR, Health & Safety, said Opportunity Partners is a valuable partner. “This was a new project for us and we had our own employees putting the boxes together for the first few weeks, including our senior management on the weekends, before we began working with OP.”

He added that OP enables Cannon Equipment to have a reliable and timely supply of the testing boxes and frees up its own employees to concentrate on more complex assembly operations.

John said he would recommend Opportunity Partners to other companies. “OP has been very helpful, reliable, responsive, timely and cost-effective.”

Contact us today for help with packaging, shrink-wrapping, kitting, collating and labeling. Call 952-930-4201 or email partner@opportunities.org

Residence fire – thank you for your support

On June 12, OP’s Ensign residence in New Hope was heavily damaged by fire. We are so thankful that a resident and staff who were home were able to get out safely! Three gentlemen have been displaced from their home of 20 years, yet they are safe and staying with family and friends.

Our insurance adjusters have declared the house a total loss.

As we continue to work toward a new home for these residents, we know there will be significant gaps in uncovered costs. Your support will be critical.

Our goal is to raise up to $300,000 to rebuild or purchase a new home. 

Many of you have asked how you can help. Yes, you CAN make a difference. 

Support the Ensign House Fire Fund

Full story can be viewed on WCCO.

Join us for the Success Celebration!

You are invited to the 2019 Success Celebration! Join us on Sunday, September 15 at the Hyland Hills Chalet in Bloomington for an afternoon celebrating the outstanding individuals we serve at Opportunity Partners.

Purchase tickets online here. All attendees must purchase tickets by September 6th.

Please contact psrc@opportunities.org with any questions.

Schedule of events:

  • 3:00 p.m. Check-in, games & dance
  • 4:30 p.m. Awards program
  • 5:00 p.m. Dinner

KARE 11 recognizes OP-Asplin art program

Life Enrichment Award from Mohr

Our Asplin Center was featured on KARE 11 recently for its outstanding art program!

The program earned a 2019 Life Enrichment Award from the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR) for the art program’s impact on increased pride, confidence and engagement among the people participating.

The award was presented at Asplin Center’s annual art show on May 30 in Plymouth.

Fire Starters making headlines

The Sun Sailor newspapers recently featured OP Fire Starters and our collaboration with the Three Rivers Park District. The parks are making the Fire Starters available at its campgrounds this summer. Workers at Opportunity Partners package the Minnesota-made product, which is also available on Amazon.

Read the full story on the Sun Sailor website.

OP to receive award from state disability organization

Opportunity Partners-Asplin Center, a day program serving people with disabilities in Plymouth, is receiving a Life Enrichment Award from the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR) for an art program that provides therapy, increases pride, confidence and engagement among the people with disabilities it serves.

JT Buell pictured with his artwork

JT Buell pictured with his artwork

Presentation of the Life Enrichment Award is scheduled for Thursday, May 30 at 5 p.m. during the annual art show at Opportunity Partners-Asplin Center, 10000 51st Avenue North in Plymouth. The event runs from 4 to 7 p.m.

“Community-based providers are at the center of Minnesota’s effort to help people with disabilities to live fuller lives,” said MOHR President Julie Johnson. “Excellent programs give people options to engage and thrive in their communities.” The MOHR organization represents more than 100 such day programs across the state.

“People who thought they weren’t good at art, or perhaps were afraid to try it, have turned into artists,” said Julie Peters, communications director for Opportunity Partners. Asplin Center has had art instruction for years, but a new revival took place in 2016, after a remodeling drove the need for a more professional and inviting look on the inside walls, she explains.

Paintings and photographs from the individuals with disabilities at Asplin are chosen and hung throughout the building and a spring art show brings people in to admire the work, Peters said. “Some individuals have carried their newfound interest in art to their homes and community, as well.” Asplin Center serves 142 people.

A donation for art supplies and frames from a family served by Asplin sparked the art renewal. As artwork started going up on the walls, Peters said people got even more excited and things escalated. Art and photography classes went from two or three days a week to five, she said.

There’s a “person-centered” focus for the participants with disabilities, who choose the types of projects to take on. Peters said the instructor teaches skills such as shadowing, and artists share their own interests in picking out the type of project they would like to do to incorporate that skill. There are helpful social aspects, as well. “The individuals we serve are able to discuss the various elements and techniques used,” said Peters. “Art is a conversation starter!”

Johnson said Minnesota has always been a leader in the provision of services for people with disabilities, and MOHR members like Opportunity Partners play a crucial role. “We are connected as a community, and service providers are mission-driven by staff members who care deeply for the people they serve. That’s how individual lives are enriched.”

Asplin Center artists have taken their work offsite for display at a local library and at community art shows. Their designs also appear at other Opportunity Partners locations and the nonprofit prints art reproductions on notecards to distribute. An individual named Faith was very resistant to drawing. With coaching and practice, her skills improved, Peters explains. One of Faith’s drawings was featured on the Disability Services Day at the Capitol buttons worn by hundreds at the annual event in St. Paul.

The nonprofit’s state association and award organizer, MOHR, has a mission to advocate and support its nonprofit members in providing meaningful services to persons with disabilities and communities served.  Members are committed to respect for each individual, a person-centered approach and expanding opportunities. More information is available at mohrmn.org.

Living our values with my 88-year-old grandpa

At Opportunity Partners, I often talk about our values of Impact, Choice, Heart and Partnership as we work to advance the quality of life for people with disabilities.

Armando and Anselmo Camacho

Armando and Anselmo Camacho

However, I seldom talk about how these same values play out in our personal lives. I believe that when we recognize and embrace these values in all areas of our lives, it helps bring us even closer to these values in our work at OP.

Some of you may know that I came to Minnesota from Puerto Rico with my grandparents when I was 6 years old. My grandparents, who raised me, hoped for a better life for us here. I was fortunate to have many opportunities for education and employment as I grew into adulthood.

Four years ago, my grandma died, and my grandpa was struggling with health issues of his own. He gave up his apartment, and I helped find him an assisted living environment.

But recently, my grandpa, 88, had become increasingly unsatisfied here. His primary language is Spanish, and he struggled to communicate with frequently changing staff and often seemed confused due to his dementia.

However, one thing was clear: he said he wanted to return to his homeland of Puerto Rico to live closer to his sister and other relatives there.

At first, I did not think this would be possible. But then I began to consider how I might help my grandpa achieve this dream. In February, I bought my grandpa a one-way plane ticket and I traveled with him to get him resettled in Puerto Rico – in a place within walking distance to his sister.

As I worked through this major life change with my grandpa, the OP values of Impact, Choice, Heart and Partnership came to mind.

Impact – While my grandpa lived in the assisted living center, the staff around him worked to make a difference in his life. The senior care field faces similar challenges as the disability services sector in terms of staff wages, high turnover and budget constraints. I saw how the staff did the best they could in spite of these challenges, just as we do at OP.

Choice – At OP, we strive to help people lead self-directed lives as much as possible. We try to balance choice with the need for health and safety. In my grandpa’s case, his choice to move back to Puerto Rico was top in his mind. My job was to make sure my grandpa understood his decision fully, and that I found him a care center there that would meet his needs.

Heart – We strive to promote the dignity and worth of each other in our work at OP. For my grandpa, my desire to help him move back home centered around his dignity and worth. I did what I could to make it happen and to help make the transition smooth for him.

Partnership – Our work at OP depends on relationships, collaboration and advocacy. Likewise, for my grandpa, we have many medical and social service partners both here and in Puerto Rico that are working with us to coordinate his care and ensure his needs are met. As we say at OP – together, we are better!

In all, this experience with my grandpa has heightened my attention to the values of Impact, Choice, Heart and Partnership and why they are so important – not only at Opportunity Partners – but in all areas of our lives. And how the support of people like you – our OP “family” – makes all of our work possible.

Written by Armando Camacho, President & CEO, Opportunity Partners

How to get started

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