Helpful tips for attending the State Fair

August 14, 2018

From sampling warm chocolate chip cookies piled high in a bucket to checking out the sights, sounds and smells of farm animals of all shapes and sizes, going to the Minnesota State Fair is a favorite activity for many. At Opportunity Partners, we’ll help an estimated 100 people experience this year’s fabulous fair.

Most of our day programs schedule trips to the fair, bringing along extra staff to make it a safe and fun trip for everyone. Maybe we’ll see you there! To help us have a great time, our friends at Access Press compiled this handy guide for accessible options and disability friendly features. Tips include information about transportation, accommodations and accessible seating for shows. Check it out before you go!

Meet Jack

July 30, 2018

By Grace Brennan, Donor Relations & Events Manager

Jack Campbell’s giant smile and cheerful attitude light up any room he walks into.

His positive demeanor is no doubt a part of his employment success. Jack started as a member of Opportunity Partners’ My Career Path, where individuals work toward graduating from center-based settings and move toward competitive, integrated employment. He later began working at the Emagine Willow Creek movie theater.

Jack has graduated from My Career Path and now works at Emagine four days a week! He loves his job, his coworkers, and, of course, the occasional free movie. With your help, Jack has gained the skills and confidence to move closer toward a brighter, independent future.

Will you make a gift today and invest in the future of others?

Thank you for helping us redefine ability for 65 years. Here’s to 65 more!

Looking ahead to Service Design

July 16, 2018

By Armando Camacho, President & CEO

Employment innovations – we have a number of new initiatives underway relating to our Service Design efforts and moving people to competitive, integrated employment. At our Penn Station location in Bloomington, we’re working to prepare people for their next employment step and to align with future changes in service rates. This involves creating more integrated work environments and offering new training opportunities to persons served.

For example, we’ve paired a person served with a warehouse associate, and we’ve helped transition two persons served into our returns department where they are learning more advanced skills. One of the individuals, Kelley, is proud to be working more independently and doing a job formerly done by staff. Her multi-step job involves reading job instructions, repackaging and labeling returns, and signing off when complete. “It feels really good,” she said. “The hard work paid off.”

New revenue streams – one of our strategic pillars at Opportunity Partners is revenue diversification. We’ve launched a new initiative at Opportunity Partners where people can access our job development services via private pay. This is an innovative idea to diversify our revenue by expanding our services to a wider audience. For a fee of $50/hour, we can work with any job seeker (with or without disabilities). There are no eligibility requirements. So if you know anyone looking for a job, feel free to share information about Opportunity Partners and how we can help. You can learn more at opportunities.org. We’ll be eager to share some success stories with you as this program develops.

Workforce challenges – the workforce shortage in the disability services industry remains concerning. Our hiring of a full-time recruiter in our Human Resources department in early 2017 has been successful in bringing new people on board, but challenges remain at Opportunity Partners, throughout our field and at many more industries. If you know anyone who would be a good fit to join the staff of Opportunity Partners, please refer them to our job openings.

Thank you for your support as we move forward with our mission to advance the quality of life for people with disabilities, and watch for more updates like this to come in the future.

Join us for the 2018 Success Celebration

You are invited to the 2018 Success Celebration! Join us on Sunday, September 9 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 events@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

The 2017 Report to the Community is now available!

Learn more about what you have helped Opportunity Partners accomplish in 2017. To receive a hard copy, please email us!

What independence means to me

July 2, 2018

By Tiana Daun, Digital Strategy & Communications Specialist

Each day, Opportunity Partners helps advance the quality of life for 2,000 people with disabilities. We are constantly working toward living and working more independently in our communities. In recognition of Independence Day this week, we asked individuals to share what independence means to them.

This July also marks the 28th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Learn more at https://www.adaanniversary.org/.

  • “Being my own guardian.” – Joe
  • “I work at McDonald’s. I’ve been there for 15 years.” – Derek
  • “Being able to make my own choices.” – Lori
  • “I live in my own apartment in Golden Valley.” – Rebecca
  • “I pack my own lunch, get dressed and do laundry. I also go for walks around my neighborhood.” – Leo
  • “I like to be on my own. I pay the bills and do laundry. I live on my own.” – Debra
  • “Making our own choices to live in our own places and do our own programs.” – Peggy
  • “Living in my home.” – John

What does independence mean to you?
Share your ideas at info@opportunities.org


“Freedom.”  Bobby

“I work at Purpose two days a week.”  Christi

“Making my own choice to maybe work in a hospital!”  Ari

Celebrating success, thanks to you

June 18, 2018

By Armando Camacho, President & CEO

Seeing people experience success is one of my greatest joys. I recently spoke with Sharon Hoffman, whose son Todd, 48, found a job last year at McDonald’s with our help. In the last year, he’s advanced from a dining room attendant to food preparation, and his managers say he is reliable and hard working.

Todd’s success and stability are especially important to Sharon and her husband Robert because they live 1,300 miles away in South Carolina. To know Todd is happy, busy and connected to his community back in Minnesota means the world to them. Having Opportunity Partners here to help is a little like having a family away from home.

“He’s doing really, really well and we’re so pleased,” Sharon said. “He’s working five days a week and he absolutely loves it.” In his free time, Todd especially enjoys bowling.

Todd’s OP job coach Gloria Kim checks in on him regularly and keeps the lines of communication open with the family. While Todd doesn’t need a lot of help from Gloria, it’s great to know Opportunity Partners is providing just the right level of support so he can be as independent as possible.

Customizing our services to meet the unique needs of individuals – like Todd – is at the core of our service design efforts. Service design is an ongoing process of understanding our stakeholders – people we serve, families, funders, policymakers, employers and our staff – and shaping services that are responsive to changing needs and expectations. As Opportunity Partners celebrates 65 years this year, continuing to understand our stakeholders and translate that into the services we offer is key. I believe our strong history of innovation and our supportive community will help guide us toward a successful future.

Employment in the future
We are shifting our community Supported Employment Team model to become pathways to competitive, integrated employment instead of final destinations whenever possible. We have many openings at SET sites; however, at times we cannot fill these openings. You can help by encouraging individuals to consider all openings. People can gain new skills with an onsite job coach, discover what they enjoy, and get on a path toward new career opportunities! As you likely know, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (W.I.O.A). involves federal rules that require people who work and earn according to their productivity to complete annual career counseling. We are well into year two of W.I.O.A. and about one-fourth of persons served are indicating they are interested in competitive, integrated employment. Thank you to all individuals and families who have participated in these meetings. We are working to get interested individuals into employment services as soon as possible.

Thank you for an amazing Gala!
Our 2018 Gala on April 28 drew a record 500+ people to our Koch Campus in Minnetonka for an evening of inspiring stories, wonderful food, exciting live and silent auction, and generous families, friends and sponsors who came together to celebrate our 65 years of opportunity. More than $300,000 was raised, making it our most successful event to date. Check out some of the photos online.

Session ends with disappointment

June 4, 2018

By Best Life Alliance

As you have likely heard, Governor Mark Dayton vetoed the Omnibus Supplemental Spending Bill, which included money to temporarily stop the 7% cut to disability services.

First and foremost, while this is a hugely disappointing ending to the legislative session this is not due to the lack of activity from our dedicated grassroots advocates. We were able to successfully move ourselves to the top of the “must do” list in both the House and Senate and were included in the final compromise offer from Governor Dayton. It is truly because of the grassroots work that you all did that got us there and will give us a strong starting point going into the next legislative session.

The Omnibus Supplemental Spending Bill was a total of 990 pages and contained financial and policy language from every aspect of government. It was for reasons un-related to the 7% issue that the bill was vetoed.

The Best Life Alliance was founded around a singular mission, supporting legislation that supports Home and Community Based Services that serve people with disabilities and the Direct Support Professional workforce. While this veto is a set-back that will have very significant ramifications for many people across the state, it is not the end of our advocacy. We are committed to continuing to work this summer and fall, leading into the next legislative session, to find ways to address the 7% cut and work to secure additional legislative changes to continue to strengthen community based services in the future.

Thank you again for all you did this session, your voice truly did make a difference.

Frank Murillo wins Minnesota Job Honor Award

Congratulations to Frank Murillo for winning a Minnesota Job Honor Award for his work with General Mills! The award was presented in partnership with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce earlier this month at their “Workforce Solutions Forum” in Minneapolis. Frank started at General Mills as part of a Supported Employment Team (SET), but now works independently in the mail room.

View the video produced about Frank’s work that was shown at the event.

Media coverage:

Life enrichment through advocacy

May 21, 2018

By Julie Peters, Communications Director

Members of Opportunity Partners’ Committee of Advocacy & Leadership (COAL) say being a part of the group has brought them new friendships and confidence in how to advocate around issues important to them.

“This group has taught me how to be a better advocate and how to be a better person … “ – Bobby

“I like to be included … it has helped me learn how to serve others …” – Debbie

“I really like it,” – Ryan

These were among the reasons COAL earned an inaugural Life Enrichment Award from the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR). COAL provides a forum for people with disabilities to stand up for themselves and ensure their voices are heard.

Mike Kraines, MOHR Board member and Executive Director of CHOICE, presented the award May 18 at Opportunity Partners-Koch Campus.

Seven years ago, Opportunity Partners launched COAL, to “ignite” in everyone the power of advocacy. It currently has 50-plus members, representing several Opportunity Partners campuses and programs, and its members meet regularly to determine what issues are important to them and how to get involved. Over time, COAL has “become a thing” at Opportunity Partners, and members look forward to its ongoing activities and meetings.

Opportunity Partners’ COAL groups are participant-led and supported by employees passionate about public policy efforts. All of COAL’s activities start with the COAL members themselves; they decide what issues and events they will participate in. For example, during a planning meeting last January, Koch Campus COAL members said they wanted to run a food drive to support a local food shelf. Members said they wanted to visit each department and hand out flyers to staff and fellow persons served. Due to the efforts of the COAL members and staff, the food drive brought in a record-breaking 831 pounds of food!

COAL has a regular “life update” segment of the meetings. During this time, people share a variety of news items. Sometimes people share things that are happening in their life—changes in their families, moving to new apartments, new jobs or changes in their jobs. People also use this time to share new ideas for our campus or things they want to talk about with their legislators.

Learning how to advocate for oneself helps create a foundation for success in all areas of life. People with disabilities need to learn and practice advocacy in order to build self-directed lives, but as historically disenfranchised members of society, it’s especially important that they get involved in the legislative process and have their voices heard. COAL provides people supported by Opportunity Partners a chance to do just that, and so much more! People with disabilities can and should play an active role in shaping the policies that affect them and influencing outcomes that have a positive personal impact. As we say in the self-advocacy movement, “nothing about us without us!”

Together with staff allies, COAL members have written letters to lawmakers and rallied at the Minnesota State Capitol on issues they felt were very important. The group has organized meetings about legislative advocacy, accessible voting for people with disabilities, healthy relationships, anti-smoking campaigns, anti-bullying efforts, and much more.

COAL is sustained through conducting its own fundraising efforts in partnership with Opportunity Partners staff allies. For example, it held a Valentine’s Day sweetheart dance, which was open to individuals from similar organizations and raised about $500 for COAL.

“Having a good life involves connecting with the people around us and being involved in our community and activities outside of work,” said Mike Burke, president of MOHR. “Nonprofit service providers are innovators when it comes to enriching the lives of the individuals with disabilities and they deserve more credit for their work.” The MOHR organization represents more than 100 such day programs across the state.

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.

Annual Gala inspires 500 during wonderful evening

May 7, 2018

By Grace Brennan, Donor Relations & Events Manager

Opportunity Partners’ annual Gala was held Saturday, April 28 at our Koch Campus in Minnetonka, where we transformed our production center into a stunning and elegant event space on the production floor of Koch Campus. The evening blended inspiring family stories, exciting silent and live auctions, delicious food, and generous guests and sponsors who celebrated 65 years of advancing the quality of life for people with disabilities.

We showcased our organizational values of Impact, Choice, Heart and Partnership when we presented Bob Garoutte with a 65-year certificate and vintage style hat, and when we shared the touching video of Matthew Gerads. Please know that Bob’s and Matthew’s successes, and the successes of hundreds of other individuals, is in large part because of you, the wonderful people who make OP what it is today. Thanks to you, this was our most successful gala to date with a record-breaking 500+ attendees and more than $300,000 raised!

Here are some inspiring quotes from our Mission Moments:

“My classes and jobs through OP helped me to learn how to work together as a team. It helped me to increase my work speed and have good work quality. OP also helped me by arranging vocational evaluations. The evaluations let me try jobs to see what I liked and what I was good at.”

– Katie, person served

“We were always concerned about what Jack would do after he aged out of Transition Plus. Opportunity Partners has been the answer to that ‘what’ question and has made all of us happy beyond words.”

– OP parent and board member, John Kelly

“At Opportunity Partners, for over ten years, he has been engaged by a progression of dedicated people who wanted to see him find himself and enter the community.”

– OP parent Larry Kugler

Special thank you to our 2018 Gala Committee, our corporate sponsors, table hosts, event donors and volunteers. I also want to give a shout out to our co-emcee Ethan Bussiere, Glen Fladeboe, and everyone else who helped make the evening truly unforgettable. See more photos from the evening on our website or Facebook page.

Recognizing #AutismAwarenessMonth

April 23, 2018

By Julie Peters, Communications Director

April is Autism Awareness Month, and we are celebrating successes all month of people we know at Opportunity Partners.

Jack Kelly, 27, has attended Opportunity Partners’ Spectrum program – now in Mendota Heights – for six years and attends five days each week. His staff says he thrives on structure and has gained skills and built stamina working on the production floor where he packages items including fire sticks and matches.

Recently, Jack took a big step when he tried out a community Supported Employment Team at Cintas in St. Paul. He now works at Cintas two days a week as part of a group that sorts and straightens 40,000 clothes hangers every day. His staff Hannah Woodie says Jack proved he could learn the job after a short training period. Jack is also taking classes at Spectrum including art exploration and health, and he enjoys outings to the library and museums.

“It’s great to see Jack pushing himself to try new things and be successful in a new environment,” Hannah said. “Jack’s made some truly remarkable strides over the last few years and I’m so happy to watch Jack grow and reach new landmarks!”

When Sam Taylor, 28, first started at Opportunity Partners’ Karlins Center nearly two years ago, he was reserved and avoided interactions with other people. Now he is extremely social and loves striking up conversations with everyone he meets. He takes learning options classes and works on the Karlins production floor. Sam says that working helps him be independent, “I like making my own money.”

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a complex developmental disability that typically affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of autism has risen to 1 in 68 births in the United States, nearly twice as great as the 2004 rate of 1 in 125. To learn more about Autism Awareness Month, you can visit the Autism Society’s website.

President & CEO Armando Camacho writes column in Sun Sailor

April 17, 2018

“Let’s work together to halt this cut so we can get back to focusing on what we do best: helping people with disabilities advance their quality of life.”

President & CEO Armando Camacho authors column “Celebrating 65 years and seeking stability for another 65 years” for the Sun newspapers. The piece outlines challenges that lie ahead and how people can rally to stop funding cuts.

Read more.

Service Redesign Update

April 9, 2018

By Armando Camacho, President & CEO

Today’s Service Redesign success story is Yohan, who joined Opportunity Partners in 2009. Over the years, Yohan gained experience working on the Koch Campus production floor and at numerous Supported Employment Teams (SETs). In November, Yohan landed his first independent job, cleaning and refurbishing wheelchairs and other equipment at Transtech in Hopkins. He loves his job and says OP taught him to stay focused, get along with co-workers, complete jobs and check his work. Congratulations to Yohan, representing one of 41 competitive, integrated job placements from our Day Service programs in 2017!

Shaping our future
At its core, Service Redesign is an ongoing process of understanding our stakeholders – people we serve, families, funders, policymakers, employers and our staff – and building services that are responsive to changing needs and expectations in the sector. As Opportunity Partners celebrates 65 years this year, continuing to understand our stakeholders and translate that into the services we offer is our main focus. Although these are times of some uncertainty, I believe our strong history of innovation and our supportive community will help guide us toward a successful future.

Workgroups underway & outreach expansion
Here at Opportunity Partners, we have formed a number of internal workgroups to share ideas, explore pilot projects, and discover new models of services that will meet the needs of the people we serve today and those we hope to serve. We also have Opportunity Partners representatives serving on key disability sector committees, both statewide and in the Metro. Additionally, we have a new position at OP called Outreach Lead. Casey Budke, previously our Assistant Manager of Brain Injury Services, will serve in this role, connecting OP with individuals, families, social workers, advocacy groups, and school districts to spread the word about OP while listening to your feedback to help us learn how we can meet the needs of people with disabilities now and in the years to come.

We are developing a new questionnaire we will be launching with persons served and families to help us understand your service needs today and what you hope for in the future. We are enlisting the support of staff closest to the individuals to conduct the interviews as we get this project underway. If you would like to be interviewed about your service needs, please contact info@opportunities.org or 952-930-4208.

Employment updates
Employment opportunities for the people we serve remains a focus of Service Redesign. Here are a few updates pertaining to Supported Employment Teams (SETs) and the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act (W.I.O.A.)

SETs – You have learned from past communications that we are shifting our SET model to become pathways to competitive, integrated employment instead of a final destination whenever possible. We have many openings at new and existing SET sites; however, at times we cannot fill these openings. You can help by encouraging individuals to consider all openings. They benefit by having the support of an onsite job coach and gaining valuable work experience for their resume. Plus, exploring different jobs can help people find the type of work they enjoy and help them get on a path toward many new career opportunities! Individuals can contact their OP staff member to find out about SET openings.

W.I.O.A. – As you likely know, W.I.O.A. involves federal rules that require people we serve who work and earn according to their productivity to complete annual career counseling. We are now well into year two of W.I.O.A. and about one-fourth of persons served are indicating they are interested in pursuing competitive, integrated employment – this is on track with our data from year one. Thank you to all individuals and families who have participated in these meetings – we know it is a lot and everyone is busy. For people who are interested in competitive employment, we are working to get them into employment services as soon as possible.

Advocacy matters – We continue to be very involved at the State Capitol, rallying for legislation supporting a stronger and more stable system for people with disabilities and the direct care staff who support them. I urge families to get involved through the Minnesota Family & Advocates Coalition (MnFAC) at https://mnfacgroup.com/.

Peter’s employment success

March 26, 2018

By John Irwin, Employment Specialist

Peter works as a food server for the on-site restaurant company Bon Appétit in a cafeteria on the campus of Macalester College. Peter started working in the cafeteria when Opportunity Partners opened a Supported Employment Team (SET) site there in 2015. He made such an impression on management that he was invited to stay on as a Bon Appétit employee when the SET site contract ended in 2016. Peter recently celebrated two years of competitive employment with Bon Appétit. There have been some ups and downs, but with the support of his coworkers, his wife and Opportunity Partners, Peter has shown that he has what it takes to be successful.

Peter has lived with a brain injury since 1999. He started with Opportunity Partners – Brain Injury Services in 2006. The path that Peter took to competitive employment began with him working on our production floor and volunteering as a substitute worker for SET sites. Peter proved to be a punctual and capable worker who got along well with staff and peers. The only thing holding Peter back from competitive employment was the lack of several soft skills needed to help obtain and keep a job.

Working at various Opportunity Partners SET sites gave Peter a chance to strengthen and sharpen his soft skills. Mainly performing janitorial tasks, Peter gradually transitioned to sites where he was required to demonstrate his ability to display his grasp of the soft skills he had been practicing. In 2015, when Opportunity Partners was looking for people to work at the SET site at Macalester, Peter decided that he was ready to jump into the middle of the action as a server.

Peter enjoys his job and takes pride in his work. Over the past two years, he has worked at the different food stations in the cafeteria with multiple chefs. He starts every shift ready to greet customers warmly and professionally and serve them the appropriate portion of the food they request. After his serving duties, he helps clean the dining area along with the rest of the servers.

While it was Peter’s performance that earned him his job, he has had some assistance in retaining his position. Along with arranging Peter’s transportation and helping him with his schedule, Peter’s wife Cathleen provides a great deal of encouragement and support at home. Peter is fortunate to have coworkers who have shown him the ropes and continue to offer reminders and tips. Opportunity Partners has been alongside Peter making sure that he is always thinking about the soft skills that he needs to exhibit on a daily basis to provide quality customer service.

Peter has worked hard to get to where he is today. He is capable of carrying most of the weight of his job on his own, but he also benefits from natural and formal support from coworkers, his wife, and Opportunity Partners. Peter has a brain injury, but he has not let that prevent him from being successful.

How to get started

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