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!

 

The theme for NDEAM 2021 is “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion,” reflecting the importance of ensuring people with disabilities have full access to jobs and community involvement. This month, we are incredibly proud to highlight a few of our employment success stories. 

Workforce challenges across most industries have left companies scrambling for help, resulting in new opportunities for many. In fact, over the past six months, more than 60 people receiving job support through OP have landed new jobs while others have seen promotions or opportunities for more hours.  

Congratulations to Amber, Charlene, Glenn and Grace – just a few of the people OP is helping to achieve employment success! 


Amber

Amber has worked at Hy-Vee for two years and has taken on a variety of roles from managing carts and shopping baskets to cashiering and customer services responsibilities. Amber is proud of her ability to learn new tasks and has even received incentives at work because of her strong customer service skills. Amber said, “I’m always on time,” adding that she works really well with her team. 

Amber’s positivity and work ethic were so apparent that her supervisor asked her to take on additional responsibilities in the last year, including handling the bustle of being a cashier.  

OP staff Lisa Marie Hindes assisted Amber with training to become a cashier and is proud of Amber’s progress at Hy-Vee, “Amber does a great job advocating for herself to have new opportunities for growth.” 


Charlene 

OP Employment Specialist Ashton Horsley checks in on Charlene at her job at Burger King about once per week to help ensure all is going smoothly. Charlene has worked there for two years. “Charlene is a really hard worker,” Ashton said. “She’s totally focused on her work. Her manager calls her a rock star.” 

Managers were so impressed with her work ethic that they asked if she could work more hours. She now works 25 hours per week, handling dishes during the busy lunch rush. “I love the job,” Charlene said. “I like the people and hours.” 

Charlene enjoyed a summer vacation to Wisconsin Dells with some of the money she’s earned.


Glenn 

Glenn, who works at Covenant Living of Golden Valley, has continued to work all throughout the pandemic performing cleaning, sweeping and recycling duties. “I’m a hard worker – I don’t miss work, I show up on time,” Glenn said, adding he likes his co-workers and the residents.  

OP staff Ashton meets with Glenn regularly to go through any training needs or paperwork, and she’s been impressed by his work ethic. “Glenn is always ready to step up,” she noted, adding his position has been especially important during the pandemic. “He goes out of his way to help others.”


Grace 

Over the past eight months, Grace has excelled in her job caring for infants and toddlers at New Horizon Academy. Miss Grace, as the kids she cares for call her, assists with snack and nap times, leading play activities, and documenting care updates for parents. 

Amid staffing shortages, Grace steadily increased her schedule to 30 hours a week to help out her coworkers, demonstrating just how essential her positive attitude and skills are to the New Horizon Academy team. 

Strong relationships with her coworkers and supervisor make Grace’s job something she looks forward to. “We’re really all like a family,” she said.


To learn more about how OP can help your business with staffing solutions, contact us today at info@opportunities.org 

Learn more about NDEAM. 

 

Alexa Jackson (she/her), Production Coordinator

What do you do at OP?
I work on the production side and we teach persons served work skills so they can eventually get a job in the community. I also work at Hampshire house on the weekends.

Share a mission moment!
I don’t have a specific moment, but you could say that every day here at OP you will have a OP moment. It’s the satisfaction of knowing that you are helping someone achieve their goals and now they get to make a higher wage or have the opportunity to get a job in the community.

What do you love about your job at OP?
I love the fact that this company feels like a family more than just a job.

If you won the lottery, what’s the first thing you would do?
I would split it up and distribute it between my family and close friends. #wealleating

What is your favorite indoor/outdoor activity?
I love to watch my favorite shows and movies and take my son to the park.

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
I would learn how to speak over 10 different languages so I could communicate with anyone.

Anything else you would like to share?
I’ve worked for OP for 3 years and this has been one of the best jobs I’ve worked at!

 

Charlie Erickson, Assistant Program Manager II, HoMEbase Hunters Ridge

What do you do at OP?
I help manage the day to day operations of our supported apartment program at HoMEbase Hunters Ridge. It’s a great program and we have some stellar individuals that live at our site.

What do you love about your job at OP?
I love how all three of our HoMEbase sites operate as a cohesive team and that our main goal at HoMEbase is to teach the people we serve the skills to live independently.

If you won the lottery, what’s the first thing you would do?
I’d put a good chunk of it into the stock market/real estate and turn it into more money.

What is your favorite indoor/outdoor activity?
I love fishing, exploring state parks, and watching football on Sundays.

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
I would learn to be a better public speaker and a more influential/persuasive communicator.

Anything else you would like to share?
I started with OP as a float DSP and really loved bouncing around to different sites and working with a wide variety of amazing individuals, but I’m happy to have taken a step up in my profession to work in program management.

 

Thank you to our amazing DSPs!

September 12-18 is National Direct Support Professionals Week! We are so proud of our DSPs and the important work they do to advance the quality of life for people with disabilities at Opportunity Partners. During DSP Week, we celebrate them, their caring and compassionate hearts, and the work they do every day to support people with disabilities.

Meet some of our DSPs!


Dianna Hamilton is a DSP in our Community Living department. In December, she will have worked for OP for 25 years! Dianna is a go-getter, helping people served get their medical needs met, advocating for them and encouraging them to advocate for themselves. She loves to get people out and about in the community and supports them to learn new skills and practice the ones they already have to increase their independence.


Joy Jackson started with OP at hoMEbase Westside April 2021 as a full time DSP. Joy was new to this type of work and has proven to be very gifted! She has a huge heart for each person served and strives to help each person become more independent and accomplish goals that matter to them. People served frequently express how much they enjoy working with Joy. She is full of kindness and truly cares about people. Joy has truly made a difference at Westside.


Gail Ring is a DSP in our Community Living department and has worked for OP for three years. She is detail-oriented and does a great job making sure that people served have what they need to live their best lives. Gail has done a great job throughout the pandemic working flexible hours, helping cover extra people served, and she even came up with a silly-questions activity to help people served have something fun to think about during the shut-downs.


Dave Ballman, Employment Specialist, has been providing employment supports to individuals for over 22 years. Dave began his career as a work floor instructor at OP-Koch Campus. He has made positive impacts and created opportunities for many individuals working in our communities. Dave’s dedication to advocacy, ongoing collaboration with employers and team members and his consistent efforts toward supporting and empowering people, continues to shine in Dave’s role on our team.


Margaret Schmitz had recently joined OP as a Support Coordinator at Karlins Center when day programs closed due to COVID-19. She jumped into a DSP role at one of our residential apartments while she was furloughed. Margaret often brought individuals out to utilize the trails near the apartment to encourage fresh air. She then took on supporting remote services, working in small groups or 1:1 to do skill building, enjoy music or take virtual tours. Margaret met up with guardians to provide games, puzzles and activities for them to participate in virtually. When OP-Karlins Center re-opened, Margaret was ready to dive back into the role and was a quick learner, flexible and willing to help others. She interacts in a positive and playful way that creates trust. The relationships Margaret has built with the individuals she supports demonstrates that she strives for them to live their best life possible.


John Irwin has been an Employment Specialist for over 10 years at Opportunity Partners. He is encouraging, dedicated and a wonderful advocate for each person on his caseload. He successfully supports individuals in employment exploration, development and retention. John’s specialty area for many years has been individuals with brain injury. He has grown in his knowledge of brain injury and stays connected with others in our field to ensure he can provide quality supports for all individuals and employers he works with. Throughout the pandemic, John continued to provide support and job coaching to more than 75 percent of the independently employed individuals on his caseload. He has continued to build and maintain quality relationships with individuals who play crucial roles within our industry including persons served, family members, state referral sources, and community employers.


Art Frazier joined OP-Karlins Center in 2020 after having spent over 10 years with CCP. From the start, he was go-with the flow, calm and a team player. Art was the first to be on board with providing transportation for a handful of individuals waiting to get on Metro Mobility. Even in the dreaded Minnesota snow, he never complained. He interacts easily with others, always engaging his groups in conversation. Art shows interest in the lives of others, including what they like to do, and adjusts his interactions and activities accordingly. Art is always willing to help in stressful situations. He is good at recognizing the early stages of frustration of individuals and provides support as needed to prevent escalation. Art is approachable, and the individuals in his classes are often competing for his attention. The men in his classes often see him as a role model, striving to be like Art. Hearing the excitement in individual’s voices when they see Art is enough to make anyone’s day!


Maria Kern is an Employment Specialist and has been providing job supports to individuals for over 14 years. She started her career at OP-Asplin Center in 2007. Her ongoing partnerships and dedication to creating opportunities for individuals and community employers for over the years has collaboration, consistency and creativity.


Brianna Dawson is the SET Coordinator/ Job Coach at one of our Opportunity Partners Supported Employment sites. Her caseload supports individuals who perform janitorial work, dish washing, and kitchen/ cafeteria supports along with meal delivery. Brianna demonstrates innovative and proactive services in her daily work, and she creates useful tools for her team to encourage independence and confidence in their routines. One of the innovative solutions that Brianna has created are detailed maps of each area that her teams works in across three large buildings. These have proven to be an integral tool for persons served learning the meal delivery routes. They have not only helped facilitate independence among the crew, but they are used by float staff and during new hire trainings at the site. Brianna is dedicated and takes pride in her work, and she is a supportive and knowledgeable strong leader. Brianna is committed to growing the team and supports individual growth in their individual vocational goals.


Jennie Davis – In her 22 years of service to Opportunity Partners, Jennie has shared her knowledge and experience with program and activity planning. She especially excels with individuals who need communication support. Jennie utilizes a program called “Board Maker” to find picture symbols and adapt lessons so each person has a better opportunity to participate in activities. The pandemic has made planning challenging as we have to follow social distancing guidelines and there weren’t safe options to go into the community. Jennie adapted to the challenge and collaborated with staff and persons served to develop a variety of in-center activities. One of the biggest hits has been making personalized collages; individuals give their input on preferred pictures and are provided with materials to work on their own collage book daily. Jennie puts together daily packets for each classroom with daily check ins, a health lesson, and a craft or large motor activity. She incorporates hand washing and walking breaks for health and safety as well. Jennie plays upbeat music while taking 1:1 time to walk with individuals in her group. When day services were closed for a time, Jennie continued to help by filling in a reoccurring shift at one of our organization’s apartment programs.


Eleanor Davis is the Support Coach/Coordinator for two Opportunity Partners Supported Employment janitorial sites. She shows truly innovative approaches to providing support in the disability services field. Eleanor assisted a person served on her caseload with her college application to Minneapolis Community & Technical College and she was accepted! Eleanor also assisted a person served with working toward their goal of healthy eating. Her role primarily involves vocational skills so she supported him at work and also connected him with resources to continue this goal outside of work. Eleanor was able to collaborate with our Remote Enrichment staff and he began virtual services weekly to continue his progress at home. This person also needed support with a move out of the state. Eleanor worked with the site contact for Greater Twin Cities United Way to connect him with the United Way location in South Carolina. She assisted the person served with updating his resume and requested a letter of recommendation from United Way in Minnesota. She also provided resources so he could stay connected with disability services once he moved.


Andrea Nemitz is an extraordinary employee who is passionate about the persons served with whom she works. She’s constantly coaching and modeling behaviors that are not only necessary for the jobs they hold, but for their lives beyond the scope of employment. Her work ethic is tremendous and she has instilled this strong work ethic in the persons served as well. In her work at a Supported Employment Team site, Indie Do Good, Andrea leads people served in experiencing workplace success as the team tackles the packaging and shipping of more than 5,000 foam pool noodles each week! She models self-determination. She asks, listens and gives space for individuals to make their own choices and determine their own direction, within the boundaries of the positions they hold. Individuals are then able to take that outside of the work world and implement it into their daily lives. In one example, Andrea helped one person served stay focused by setting up a visual cue system using different colored pool noodles that were being packaged. Prior to her work as a Site Coordinator, Andrea served several years as a DSP at OP-Koch Campus. She was the lead coverage staff which meant she was part of a staff rotation at our very busy front desk, and she also worked in our health office. She excelled in both areas.


Jenella (Lolly) Edwards is a DSP in the Community Living department and has worked for OP for seven years! Lolly excels at connecting with people served and helping them figure out what they need to thrive. She is a strong advocate and encourages people served to step into new things in order to improve their lives and gain new experiences and perspectives. She is always on the go with someone!


Annie Malsam got her start at OP in Residential Services and now is a SET Coordinator at Boston Scientific-Maple Grove. She’s been instrumental in implementing the new kitchen/cafeteria collaboration with the current kitchen staff. She’s been coaching, training and guiding persons served as they learn to deliver meals to the Boston employees, stock the coolers, set up and take down the salad bar and maintain an ongoing sanitization of the kitchen. She’s collected data reflecting the trends in meal deliveries, including identifying which time-slots are busiest, the total number of meals being delivered daily and to which buildings. In addition to the implementation of persons served working in the kitchen, she’s given two individuals an opportunity to work in the dish room, maintaining a clean and sterile dish environment for the entire kitchen. She’s an excellent role model for individual we serve as she demonstrates a phenomenal work ethic and models appropriate person-to-person interactions with Boston employees and kitchen staff.

Thank you to all of our DSPs at OP!

September 5, 2021
The Blue Barn at the Minnesota State Fair has served up thousands, if not millions, of boatloads of delicious food since it was built 8 years ago. Pierogies, French Toast Bites topped with Ice Cream and Pop Rocks, and Corn Fritz are just a few of the items on the menu that are served up in what staff call “boats.”

But those boats, as simple as they are, used to be a bit of a headache.

“We used to have just flat sheets of these liners in a pack and believe it or not, it gets really windy out here and they would blow all over the place and it would slow us down in our production. Not to mention, we were chasing these things all over and picking them up,” said Stephanie Shimp, one of the owners of the Blue Barn.

The few sections spent assembling the boats also added on to the wait time for customers.

“A little bit of a line is okay at the Fair but no one wants to wait 45 minutes for pierogies or corn fritters,” said Shimp.

HELP FROM OPPORTUNITY PARTNERS
So she reached out to Opportunity Partners, which has locations in Minnetonka and Plymouth. The nonprofit coordinates work opportunities for people with disabilities, and workers assembled the boats ahead of the Fair.

“The boat is ready to go, versus before we had to fold the paper and put it in the boat and it slowed down the process,” said Shimp. “It really helps our flow and helps our friends at Opportunity Partners. too.”

Opportunity Partners CEO Bill Schultz says this partnership has been successful for both entities.

“This year we did 95,000 of these pieces of paper into the dishes and over 100 people with disabilities worked on the project. We did it in 1.5 weeks,” said Schultz. “Stephanie has been a terrific partner and generous with praise with how helpful we’ve been with the process and serving people efficiently and getting those lines down at the State Fair.”

Read article on the CCX website

 

The Blue Barn, owned by Blue Plate Restaurant Company, was better prepared to serve Minnesota State Fair visitors thanks to a meaningful partnership with Opportunity Partners.

Our team of dedicated and enthusiastic workers, who are also people with disabilities, eagerly took on the challenge of assembling nearly 100,000 food containers, lining the containers with branded Blue Barn paper and skillfully packing boxes ahead of the fair’s opening day. It is a partnership that has existed since 2015.

Aisha Kaylor of Blue Plate Restaurant Company says working with nonprofit Opportunity Partners saves Blue Barn workers time so they can focus on preparing food and filling orders during the bustling 12 days of the fair. Kaylor expressed her gratitude for the time and talents of people served by Opportunity Partners, saying, “Thank you for being able to do this for us. Opportunity Partners always goes above and beyond!”

The partnership between Opportunity Partners and Blue Plate Restaurant Company isn’t just about business or food — it’s also an example of what can be accomplished when the abilities of people with disabilities are the focus.

Organizations like Opportunity Partners are right here in our community, ready to help people with disabilities find and succeed at jobs and to serve as a resource and disability expert for companies who need assistance finding dedicated employees. In addition to direct placements, Opportunity Partners also provides supervised teams at businesses and, in the case of the Blue Barn partnership, does contract packaging and assembly at our facilities. Contact us today for more information!

 

PLYMOUTH, MINNESOTA – In March 2020, a person served by Opportunity Partners showed signs of choking while eating. Opportunity Partners staff members Jackie Chouinard, Shari Mason and Kaitlyn Wieling quickly recognized the emergency, dialed 911 and successfully performed the Heimlich maneuver. For their quick actions, the three staff members received Citizen Awards during the Plymouth Police Department’s virtual ceremony held earlier this summer.

During the award ceremony, Chouinard, Mason and Wieling were recognized“…not only for calling for assistance but also for having the knowledge to perform the Heimlich maneuver.” The Plymouth Police Department then congratulated the three Opportunity Partners staff members, “…for acting on that life-saving knowledge.”

 

 

Anney Senethavilay, Recruitment Coordinator Intern

What do you do at OP?
I assist the recruiting manager with scheduling interviews and posting new requisitions on different platforms.

What do you love about your job at OP?
I love connecting with people and finding the perfect place for them in the OP family!

If you won the lottery, what’s the first thing you would do?
I would travel around the world!

What is your favorite indoor/outdoor activity?
Outdoor hikes with my dog!

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
I would learn how to play the violin and piano.

 

Although we were not able to have the large in-person Success Celebration event, we celebrated in small ways with stops at several OP locations. We are hoping that next year we will be able to celebrate everyone in person for a fun and safe event!

If you have questions, please email PSRC@opportunities.org

 

Hannah Maupin, Communication and Design Coordinator

What do you do at OP?
I develop, design, and coordinate production for a wide variety of materials to achieve the organization’s strategic objectives. I also assist with editing external communications and manage the OP website. Basically make things look pretty!

Share a mission moment!
Getting to meet a gal we serve who lost her job during the pandemic was tough. Then she found out she got her job back and was able to work again! I got to visit her during lunch while she was working, and she was so happy to be back!

What do you love about your job at OP?
I have just loved getting to know the people we serve. Being able to work toward a greater mission is so fulfilling, and I don’t think you get that in a job very often.

If you won the lottery, what’s the first thing you would do?
Pay off my husband’s schooling. Then take a vacation!

What is your favorite indoor/outdoor activity?
I love to crochet, I’m obsessed. Visiting a nice flower garden or park is also so relaxing to me.

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
Ballet!

Anything else you would like to share?
I design and sell art as stickers, cards, and other fun things! It keeps me busy when I’m not at work!

 

Tim Dusil, Support Coach

What do you do at OP?
I plan and implement lessons and activities for small groups.

Share a mission moment!
I really enjoy art. One of my favorite projects was to make tie dyes with my group. It was enjoyable to work through the project and see the groups surprise when we were finished. I always love it when I see someone wear their shirt to Opportunity Partners for the day. I always make sure to tell them how much I like their shirt. The smiles I get make my day.

What do you love about your job at OP?
I like researching and building a curriculum that has lessons or projects that will stimulate the group I am working with.

If you won the lottery, what’s the first thing you would do?
I would get a financial advisor and figure out what would be the best way to invest and donate.

What is your favorite indoor/outdoor activity?
My favorite outdoor activity is to go to the pool and swim.

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
I would like to learn how to fly an airplane.

Anything else you would like to share?
Things I enjoy in no specific order are going to the pool, art, motorcycle rides, and golf.

 

Mindy Otis, Assistant Manager of Remote Services

What do you do at OP?
I support person served and staff who work and meet remotely from their homes over Zoom!

Share a mission moment!
Within the past year I have seen so many of our person served not only learn how to use brand new technology but learn how to use it independently! I was able to help a person served over zoom by describing the steps needed to log themselves onto zoom on their own. Within a week or so they were logging themselves on all on their own and not only that, they learned how to set up their own email folder for all their zoom class links all on their own! It is so fun to see their face light up when they have mastered these tasks!

What do you love about your job at OP?
I love getting to meet with people served in the comfort of their own homes, even though we meet virtually. The people we support remotely have been able to share things not typically shared in a day program setting, such as their pets, what their bedrooms look like, special things that are important to them. I love getting to see this different side to the people we support.

If you won the lottery, what’s the first thing you would do?
Probably pay off my student loans and buy a house!

What is your favorite indoor/outdoor activity?
I really enjoy cooking and playing board games with friends and spending time with my cat, Peaches.

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
I would learn how to play every single instrument; I have a weird habit of acquiring musical instruments that I do not know how to play, but I really like them and would love to learn!

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