Tom has been enjoying his career at Tactical Urban Combat at the Mall of America. Each day he referees nerf and laser tag games, comes up with new game concepts and has even got to test run the company’s new VR (Virtual Reality) arena! He loves making people smile and forming connections with customers. “It’s a good job because I get to branch out of my shell,” he said.

Tom’s been with Opportunity Partners for about a year and a half. Before OP, some of his work experiences were difficult for him. ”OP has been a great job source to find jobs and find what’s right,” said Tom.
When it came to switching careers, he was set on working at the Mall of America for ease of transportation. He found out Tactical Urban Combat was hiring when the company’s CEO posted about an opening on TikTok.

Tom’s OP job coach Ashton has helped him succeed and support him through challenges. The pair have been working together for over seven months, where they’ve learned more about Tom’s strengths and how he can use them.

“I’ve enjoyed working with Tom, seeing his insights and learning more through his skills and capitalizing on those skills,” said Ashton.

The two of them have worked together to find balance at work for Tom. Tom is thriving in his job – he’s been able to form personal relationships with his fellow employees and loves his career at Tactical Urban Combat!

“Ashton has been able to advocate for me when it’s been hard for me to advocate for myself,” he said.

Tom loves technology and is quite skilled with social media. He will soon be putting those skills to use by managing the company’s social media pages! “Tom is really knowledgeable about technology. He has a good handle on social media and how it can benefit TUC (Tactical Urban Combat),” said Ashton.

Tom loves his work and has also been involved in charity events, raising funds for the Autism Society of Minnesota!

 

Grace, who has been served by Opportunity Partners for nearly two years, has made strides in her community employment. She has previously volunteered, been a cashier and most recently cared for infants and toddlers at New Horizon Academy. With the help of her Employment Specialist Ashton, Grace has found a new job she loves at Caribou.

She enjoys working the drive-through and making drinks, and she has formed great bonds with her coworkers and regular customers. Grace’s career has allowed her more independence and helped her grow.

While she loves taking orders and whipping up “pup cups” at Caribou, what Grace is really passionate about is helping others with disabilities. She’s made great friends over the years with people who also have autism and would love to pursue a career helping them in the future. She’s working with Ashton to get her driver’s license so that she can assist people with their daily routines or even go for outings to the pool or McDonalds!

“I have a disability myself but I’m very high functioning with my autism so I want to impact other people’s lives whether it’s autism or what other disability people may have . . . I really just care about people and I just want to help.”

Grace loves OP’s philosophy and all of the ways people are served beyond job coaching.

Grace’s family first discovered she had autism when she was attending kindergarten at a French Immersion school in Edina. “Different languages were hard so that’s how we found out that I had autism. Things were a struggle figuring out where I should be, schooling-wise,” said Grace.

However, after finding ASD programs with helpful management tools and being assigned her own paraprofessional throughout high school, Grace was able to find success in her education.

Ashton noted that Grace is a determined and confident advocate for herself and others, and she cares greatly about her coworkers and customers. “I really enjoy working with Grace, I admire her ambition and her determination and it’s just been really enjoyable and fun to help her to set these goals and be able to take each step towards them,” said Ashton.

Grace has had a spark for helping others since she was young and has a great career ahead of her!

Matthew, who works at our Bren Road Service Center, has been a part of Opportunity Partners since November 2019. Since COVID-19 he has increased his schedule to working five days a week! He spends most of his day working in a team at our blister pack machines packaging small items.

Prior to the pandemic he attended classes at OP where he would grab a bite to eat, go bowling, exercise or visit the library.

Matthew sustained his brain injury while riding his bike near his St. Louis Park home in November 2018. It resulted in the loss of use of his right hand, which was difficult for him as he was originally right handed. He also lost feeling in his right foot, and became blind in his left eye.

Before his injury, Matthew enjoyed playing basketball, tennis and riding his bike. His disability makes those activities more difficult, but has found a fun summer bike riding group through Courage Kenny and a great work community at OP.

Matthew is a star worker and won employee of the Month in August 2021!

Day Services Manager Renee Beaver described Matthew as a very positive worker. He’s dedicated, reliable and holds a lot of pride for the work he does at OP. She said, “I see Matthew as an excellent role model to anyone he comes in contact with. He is that sunshine on the job that everyone could use on those cloudy days.”

On why he loves working at OP he said, “They’re so supportive and I make friends here more easily than at the other jobs. I really look forward to work at OP whereas at the previous jobs, I very rarely looked forward to it . . . I get to talk to the staff about movies and TV shorts, music and sometimes sports.”

Since joining OP, Renee has noticed him come out of his shell. He’s become more outgoing and regularly chats with his peers. Since reaching his goal of earning minimum wage, she saw him gain more confidence in his work and interactions with others.

In his free time, Matthew enjoys going for walks and listening to podcasts. He loves watching basketball, football and tennis with his dad, who he visits every other weekend. The pair are even heading to the University of Nebraska in April to watch the spring football game together! His favorite artist is Drake, he’s currently watching “Inventing Anna” on Netflix and will be watching “Atlanta” season 3 as soon as it comes out.

Written by Julia Zerull, Communications & Engagement Coordinator

 

Disability Services Day focused primarily on current staffing shortages

March 17, 2022 by Jason Jenkins

A pair of local disability service organizations recently took part in rallying for legislative support as part of this year’s Disability Services Day.

Typically held in person at the Minnesota Capitol, this and last year’s rallies were hosted online as a COVID-19 safety precaution, with a virtual “rally” inviting in individuals with disabilities from around the state and those who work to support them.

“We had a Zoom link with a capacity for something like 1,000 people, and they ran out of capacity and had to bump people over to Facebook Live. … People made signs and held them up, which kind of helped create that rally feeling,” said Mary Gaasch, director of advocacy and community relations for Hammer Residences, a Wayzata-based nonprofit organization that provides support services for individuals with developmental disabilities. The organization has more than 46 homes and apartment programs, with staff serving more than 270 adults throughout the western suburbs.

Throughout the day on March 8, rally participants virtually sat in on House and Senate meetings and spoke with state legislators.

A focus point for this year’s rally was around the staffing shortages at disability service organizations around the state.

“It’s a real workforce catastrophe for disability services,” Gaasch said. “There are providers who are shutting down programs, sending people home and moving people back to larger facilities, which is taking us back in time and undoing 40 years of progress.”

According to the leaders with Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation, which organizes Disability Services Day along with ARRM and the statewide coalition Best Life Alliance, many organizations providing employment and day enrichment supports to people with disabilities had to shut down at the start of the pandemic to best protect the health and safety of the individuals they served.

Once able to reopen, many of these organizations were unable to find staff to return, with many leaving the field for better paying opportunities. As staff wages for disability services fall further behind market rates, employment and day support programs face long waiting lists as their capacity to serve shrinks.

“Minnesota is experiencing a dire shortage of workers to provide disability services, and providers reported more than 3,500 people on waiting lists,” MOHR President Julie Johnson said.

Johnson and others are calling on support from the legislature by passing bills (SF 2771 and HF 3100) for long-term solutions, including adjustments to Minnesota’s Disability Waiver Rate System to use more current economic data to update the state set reimbursement rates that service providers use to pay their staff and provide services.

Another set of bills (SF 2968 and HF 3268) is designed to address staffing shortages of direct support professionals by providing immediate short-term steps to help stabilize the workforce through employee scholarship grants, childcare relief and one-time retention payments for staff.

“One-time money can and will help in the short term, but we also need solid support from the legislature and governor for long-term solutions,” Johnson said. “Simply put, if we as a state value Minnesotans with disabilities living full and meaningful lives, our state set reimbursement rates have to be set at a level to pay for the staff supports necessary to make that possible.”

Another local organization taking part in the rally was Opportunity Partners, a Minnetonka-based nonprofit providing employment, enrichment and residential services for people with disabilities in Minnetonka, Plymouth and 20 residential group homes and three apartment programs throughout the metro.

Bill Schultz, president and CEO of Opportunity Partners, said staffing issues have reached a critical point, with some providers having to close and some group home providers unable to hire staff because they can’t offer rates that are competitive with the current market.

“The biggest thing is … how can we find ways to get the rates up so we can pay more competitive wages?” Schultz said. “I think there’s a lot of things that we could do around that and just working the Department of Human Services and our legislators to get it done.”

Schultz said another key component in the effort is to create a better awareness around the jobs and the important work that disability service organizations provide in the community.

“It’s really rewarding work for folks. … And I think all of these organizations have a really good culture because they’re driven by the mission and people feel good about what they do,” he said.

To learn more about the local disability service organizations, visit hammer.org and opportunities.org.

To learn more about ongoing advocacy efforts, visit arrm.org and mohrmn.org.

Read article on the Sun Sailor website

 

March 16, 2022
A recent visit to Albertville was special for Chelsea Lucas. Rather than spending the day at her Brooklyn Park group home, she got to spend some valuable one-on-one time at the home of her twin sister, Nicole.

However, Nicole is more than just a sister. Chelsea is dependent on her for many facets of life.

“[Chelsea] has chromosome abnormalities, so she’s deaf, she’s nonverbal,” Nicole Lucas said. “She can say one syllable words. And she has autism and epilepsy, so she’s got a whole lot of things.”

While this quality time between the two sisters is nice, ideally, Chelsea would be taking part in a day program where she could work and socialize with others. That’s what she did before the pandemic hit.

“She went five days a week, 9-2 or something like that,” Nicole said of Chelsea’s day program. “She had friends there.”

In March of 2020, Chelsea’s day program shut down and due to staffing shortages, she hasn’t been able to resume those pre-COVID activities.

Two years without that outlet have taken a physical and emotional toll.

“I mean, it’s a constant struggle,” Nicole said. “I feel like, she’s just kind of existing in between my visits.”

WAITING LIST OF 400 PEOPLE

“I can certainly understand her frustrations and her desperation,” said Bill Schultz, president and CEO of Opportunity Partners, which is a nonprofit that provides day programs for people with disabilities.

Chelsea is on a waiting list to get into one of its programs, along with 400 other people.

The list is so long because Opportunity Partners has 80 open staffing positions.

“They’re the lifeblood of our mission, where we support adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Schultz said of their staff members. “Without them, we can’t deliver our mission and support people in the community. So really to provide those services to the community, we need the help from our legislators.”

The wages for those positions are dictated by the state. Most of the jobs pay between $15 and $16 an hour, making it hard to be competitive in a tight labor market.

“Oftentimes people with disabilities are invisible to the community and it can be a forgotten group, and there’s so many competing voices for the surplus that’s out there,” Schultz said.

It’s why Nicole is trying to be a voice for Chelsea, to help her get back to the life she had before the programs shut down.

“I hope that people who have the ability to make change don’t forget them and work hard at bringing it back,” Nicole said.

Read article on the CCX website

 

Dianna Hamilton-Yess (She/Her), Direct Support Professional

What do you do at OP?
I help adult individuals in the community by going on outings/activities of their choice to help them be as independent as possible. I’m a strong advocate and like to encourage them to advocate for themselves too.

Share a mission moment!
I love bringing a person served out into the community, grocery shopping, and being with more people and having more life experiences to learn from. It can be really awesome when a spontaneous experience happens with another person in the community; the interactions and learning experiences. You gotta go with the flow.

What do you love about your job at OP?
I love the interactions with people served and being there when they grow those interactions.

If you won the lottery, what’s the first thing you would do?
Put it in the bank and think about the best ways to enjoy/spend it.

What is your favorite indoor/outdoor activity?
I like being outdoors and taking “point and shoot” photos with my phone of nature scenes. I enjoy walking with my dog and reading a good book.

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
I would work more with dogs somehow!

Anything else you would like to share?
I am a big animal lover. I love dragonflies. I love my family and getting together; seeing my nephew’s families and their little ones.

A new year brings new opportunities to connect with our mission of working together to advance the quality of life for people with disabilities. In 2022, we’re feeling the energy of a fresh year and here’s why!

New board members to help guide us

We’re excited to welcome new community leaders to our Board of Directors. New board members Milton Dodd, Julie Sjordal and Brett White each bring unique skills and experiences that will help enhance our mission. Get to know them!

Milton Dodd currently serves as Sales Director with the talent and consulting firm Salo. Milton’s career includes leadership roles with Trust Edge Leadership Institute, Genesys Works and Lifetouch National Schools Studios. Milton has served as a dedicated board member of several nonprofit organizations.

 

Julie Sjordal is Chief Executive Officer of St. David’s Center for Child and Family Development. Throughout her career, Julie has focused on children, families and adult with disabilities, serving as a leader in the field. Julie is inspired by her sister Angie, who has Down syndrome and who lives a full life in the community with the support of organizations like OP.

 

Brett White is Vice President of Finance for General Mills’ North America Retail segment. Before joining General Mills in 2005, he held positions with Kraft Foods, Pillsbury, and Maple Leaf Foods in Canada and the United Kingdom. Brett is involved in the community as an active board member of an area nonprofit.

 

New connections with the people we serve

In fall 2021, we successfully relaunched our volunteer program. In 2022, we’re gearing up to connect even more volunteers. Whether you’re looking to volunteer once a week or once every few months, we’ll find the right fit for you! Soon, we’ll roll out brand new, fun and flexible ways to create meaningful connections with the people we serve! To learn more, visit our volunteer page.

New ways to make your voice heard

With the help of our advocacy partners ARRM, MOHR and Best Life Alliance, we aim to increase awareness about the significant challenges the entire disability services community faces amid the pandemic, including severe staffing challenges that limit our ability to bring more people back to our services. Now more than ever, your voice is a powerful tool to advocate for and alongside the people we serve.

Three ways to support OP’s advocacy efforts:

Sign Up: Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to receive updates on participating in simple advocacy actions during the legislative session, which runs January 31 to May 23.

Save the Date: Save the date for Disability Services Day at the Capitol on Tuesday, March 8. The event will be hosted virtually by our advocacy partners. Learn more about the event on our advocacy webpage.

Join COAL: Join our Committee On Advocacy and Leadership (COAL). COAL is for persons served who want to learn more about self-advocacy and become involved in OP’s advocacy activities throughout the year. To join COAL, email info@opportunities.org

Be a part of something bigger

A new year is a chance to learn, grow, and connect — and to try something new! Maybe that’s taking five minutes to participate in our advocacy efforts when you read our next monthly e-newsletter. Maybe trying something new is that thing you’ve been meaning to do, such as meeting a friend for coffee and inviting them to join you as an OP volunteer. Whatever 2022 brings, we invite you to try something new with us!

Is there something you’d like to see on our blog in the future? We’d love to hear from you! Send your ideas to info@opportunities.org

 

 

 

 

 

January 3, 2022

Attention Families/Guardians/Persons Served/Support Staff:

Important COVID-19 Vaccine/Testing Information

In response to OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for employers with more than 100 employees, Opportunity Partners is now rolling out policies and procedures for COVID-19 vaccination tracking and testing for our staff and all persons served who are paid by OP. This includes all OP staff as well as persons served who work on our production floors, persons served who work at our community Supported Employment Team sites, and individuals being paid by OP for various community work experiences.

  • For individuals paid by OP: Please submit proof of vaccination, including an image of the proof with name, date of birth, date of COVID-19 vaccination(s) and vaccine manufacturer. Submissions should be sent to policy@opportunities.org. If you have questions, please email policy@opportunities.org or call 952-351-5404. Options for verification of vaccination include:
    • Pictures of the front and back of the vaccination card
    • Screenshots from your Docket App – if you download this app on your phone, it will pull a list of your immunization records. Here you can click on the square with arrow to the right of your name, download the PDF, and submit the PDF.
    • Screenshots from your My Chart – log in, go to Menu, My Record, My COVID-19 Information – here you can take a screenshot to submit (again this will be easiest with your MyChart app on your phone).
  • Beginning Feb. 9, persons paid by Opportunity Partners who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 will be required to submit weekly COVID test results. Watch for more information about testing specifications.
  • If you have not been vaccinated but plan to do so in order to avoid the weekly testing requirement, we urge you take action as soon as possible. One dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two doses of Pfizer or Moderna, followed by two weeks, is considered fully vaccinated.
  • There is a great deal of information available for you to learn more about the OSHA ETS and related topics. We have set up a page on our web site at https://opportunities.org/covid-19-update/ with links to the following documents:
    • OP COVID Vaccination/Testing/Face Covering Policy
    • OSHA ETS Summary
    • CDC Key Things to Know
    • OSHA Information on Penalties for False Information
    • OSHA Workers’ Rights
  • Note: We are aware that the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing objections to the OSHA ETS this week. We will notify you if anything changes, but we need to continue with our plans for compliance assuming it will go forward.

Thank you for your cooperation as we strive to comply with federal requirements and to keep our workplaces as safe and healthy as possible. Your time and attention to this information is greatly appreciated.

If you have questions, please email policy@opportunities.org or call 952-351-5404.

 

Our son Teddy, 32, is happiest when he’s playing basketball and flag football, watching the Minnesota Vikings and Twins, sampling cheeseburgers with his sister at local restaurants, and working to earn his own spending money.

That’s where Opportunity Partners comes in. Since 2010, Teddy has gained a wide variety of work experiences, including bagging groceries and working in an office mail room. These jobs have given Teddy a sense of accomplishment, a feeling of belonging, and the ability to “make money at my jobs.”

We are incredibly grateful for OP for being here for Teddy, even when jobs haven’t always worked out for him. It’s important to us that OP offers employment services across the continuum, based on people’s skills and needs.

Thank you to our caring community for supporting an organization that means so much to Teddy and to our family. Because of you, OP is surviving the pandemic and providing important services to so many individuals. We’re not sure where Teddy would be without OP by his side.

We support OP because we want to ensure this important organization can continue to be here for people with disabilities in our community.

Thank you for making a difference during this season of giving!

Make a gift today

 

Please note: A friendly reminder that OP Day Services will be closed on Friday, Dec. 24 and Friday, Dec. 31. Please connect with your OP staff member if you are not sure how this impacts you. Thank you, and Happy Holidays!

In 2002, Catherine and Brent completed the adoption of two young children from Ukraine. Vanya, 7, and Julia, 6, were not related to each other, but the adoption made them a family.

Their parents did not know it at the time, but both Vanya and Julia had disabilities. They faced many years of learning challenges and difficulties in school. Throughout the years, they grew as a family and in 2012, they began to start planning for Vanya and Julia’s futures after high school.

“When you have children with disabilities, there are a lot of worries,” mom Catherine said. “You wonder, what are they going to do for the rest of their lives?”

Opportunity Partners came into the picture just in time.


Julia’s story

After high school, Julia needed adult services so she attended Opportunity Partners in Coon Rapids, meeting new friends, taking part in community activities, and learning new skills by working at OP’s production center.

But when the pandemic hit, those services were closed. And then, OP made the difficult decision to not renew the lease of its Coon Rapids location.

This was a painful time for Julia, who had grown to love the staff and friends at that location.

Fortunately, thanks to generous supporters like you, OP was able to develop new ways of serving people throughout the pandemic, including remote services. Today, Julia connects with OP staff virtually three times per week for social activities and conversation. She also meets in person with OP staff six hours per week for grocery shopping, cooking, exercising and doing crafts.

“I really like working with my OP staff,” Julia said. “I enjoy getting stronger in my independent living skills.”

Mom Catherine agrees. “We see her confidence and capability growing each week,” she said, adding that Julia is also enjoying her independent job at an area Marshall’s store.


Vanya’s story

In 2014, Vanya, then 19, got an opportunity for a new position at Target. But, he needed a job coach to support him after graduation.

That’s where your support of Opportunity Partners came in. Vanya was matched with Julie, a job coach from OP. She began visiting with him twice a month, and she checks in often by phone.

Things haven’t always gone smoothly. At times, Vanya struggled to follow workplace rules, and at one point he was put on probation. “I said to myself, ‘Figure this out, Vanya!’ ” he said. With the help of his job coach Julie, he was able to improve every day.

Vanya’s been there seven years now, even working throughout the pandemic. He brings in the shopping carts, cleans, and carries out purchases for customers. “People at Target are happy to have me, and I sure enjoy it,” he said. “OP helps me be a better worker by giving me a job coach who helps me understand what I need to do to be the best employee I can be.”

Catherine, Vanya’s mom, said she sees the change that working has made in Vanya. “Everyone needs to feel that they are contributing,” she said, adding that work creates an important community. She described a touching moment when she witnessed Vanya’s co-workers greeting him at a company picnic. “He jokes around with his co-workers, and I know that these are people who truly see my child,” she said.

OP sees people with disabilities, like Vanya and his sister, Julia. Our mission guides our work and ensures we are here to help people find and succeed in community jobs and experience greater independence.

Catherine says both of their children, daughter Julia (26) and son Vanya (almost 27), have benefited greatly from Opportunity Partners. “From working in the production room, to receiving job coaching services, to taking part in the community living program, we have seen great growth in each of them,” she said.

“It’s exciting to see how Vanya and Julia are preparing for their futures with OP’s help,” mom Catherine shared.

Families rely on Opportunity Partners for futures filled with promise and opportunities. Because of you, OP can continue to be by Vanya and Julia’s sides as they navigate adulthood — building relationships, working, and living successful and happy lives.

 

Please note: OP Day Service locations are closed for people we serve on Thursday, Nov. 25 and Friday, Nov. 26. If you have questions, please connect with your OP representative. Happy Thanksgiving!

Opportunity Partners (OP) and Uponor North America have partnered for the past nine years to support job training and employment for individuals with disabilities. Julie Stier, Supported Employment Team (SET) Site Supervisor with Opportunity Partners, currently manages two employees on the Uponor Rework Line, helping guide the team’s job success.

“The OP team takes great pride in their work at Uponor, providing personal satisfaction as well as bolstering their confidence,” said Stier. “Helping the people we serve gain experience and independence aligns with our mission of advancing the quality of life for people with disabilities.”

Fostering an inclusive workplace is among the goals of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Held each October, NDEAM celebrates the many and varied contributions of workers with disabilities. Partners like Uponor strive to create environments where individuals with disabilities feel supported, valued and included.

“At Uponor, the employees recognize the OP team members, they say hi to us, and they engage with our team,” said Stier. “They notice if one of our team members is gone for a day, and they always ask about them and how they are doing. Those we serve through OP want to be treated as part of the team, and have enjoyed being included in Uponor employee events.”

This month and all year long, Opportunity Partners is proud to partner with companies like Uponor to provide job training that enhances personal and professional success for people with disabilities.

Content Credit: Thanks to the team at Uponor North America for generously contributing to this story.

October 21, 2021

A group from Opportunity Partners was recently featured on Disability and Progress, a local Twin Cities radio show and podcast hosted by Sam Jasmine on KFAI Fresh Air Community Radio. Guests included Bill Schultz (President and CEO of Opportunity Partners), Lisa Marie Hindes (Employment Specialist with Opportunity Partners), Ashley Merritt (Sales Associate at Maurices and person served by Opportunity Partners) and Michelle Alvord (Team Member at Arby’s and person served by Opportunity Partners).

Our group of guests discussed National Disability Employment Awareness Month, highlighted employment success stories, and shared their perspectives. The recorded Disability and Progress radio and podcast episode from October 21 is now available.

Listen to the show as a podcast here!

 

Luke Bourdeaux, Supported Apartment Specialist

What do you do at OP?
I support people in several areas of daily living to promote their personal-growth, understanding and independence!

What do you love about your job at OP?
I love many things about my job at OP! Near the top on the list of things I love the most, would be my team of co-workers; composed of highly intelligent, capable, and compassionate human beings.

If you won the lottery, what’s the first thing you would do?
I’d deposit my winnings into my savings-account.

What is your favorite indoor/outdoor activity?
I like to read, listen to music, and spend time with my family.

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
I’d either learn a second language, or learn to play a new instrument!

Anything else you would like to share?
Prior to my current employment with Opportunity Partners, I worked for several years in the trades as a plumber!

How to get started

An Opportunity Partners representative is ready to answer your questions or discuss the many ways we can partner with you. Get started today