Celebrate NDEAM with us!

September 24, 2018

By Tiana Daun, Digital Strategy and Communications Specialist

Opportunity Partners is proud to support National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) in October. Each year, NDEAM celebrates the countless contributions of workers with disabilities and aims to promote awareness about disability employment issues. During October, we will be sharing stories of those who are succeeding in their jobs and organizations that foster a disability-friendly work culture.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017 only 18.7 percent of people with a disability were employed, while 65.7 percent of people without a disability were employed. While the unemployment rates for both parties declined from the previous year, we still have a long way to go!

“Like all companies, ours doesn’t operate on an island. Our organization is part of a system of business partners, people and values. To serve our customers and offer the best products and services, we need a diverse collection of skills and experiences,” says Carrie Gruman of Productivity, Inc. Productivity has been a partner in inclusion for over 15 years. Matthew (pictured) works there as part of the janitorial staff.

Look out next month as we recognize some of our incredible people and celebrate in their employment success. Stories will be on Facebook, Instagram and our newsletter! You can also learn more on the Department of Labor website.

Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary

Opportunity Partners awarded DHS grant

September 13, 2018

Opportunity Partners was recently awarded a $293,035 innovation grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services Disability Services Division.

This grant will support a new pilot project that is pairing people with disabilities with peer mentors at Twin Cities businesses. Funds will also be used to provide supplemental transportation for interns and others via Blue & White taxi service.

Sarah is one of our participants who was hired at Arby’s!

We are off to a great start! Of the individuals who have completed an initial three-week trial phase of the internship, all four have been hired by the employer. We look forward to more successes ahead with the help of this two-year grant.

This pilot project was developed as part of the Together Works Better initiative that was launched in the fall 2016. We are delighted to be among a select few organizations receiving one of these grants and believe it will help further our mission of advancing the quality of life for people with disabilities.

Read more online announcing the other grants in Minnesota.


DSP Recognition Week – September 9-15

Happy Direct Support Professional Recognition Week!

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

Maija McKeown

“I love getting to know the folks we support – what they like, what they don’t, and figure out little things that I can do that bring them joy. I like that I get to work directly with people – sometimes in a management capacity, in my experience I didn’t always get to spend a lot of time with the folks supported by OP. It’s nice to actually spend time with people, and when I have an idea, I can see it come to life, rather than pass it along to someone else and maybe hear about it later or maybe not.”


Trish Anderson

“The variety of people I see daily and the flexibility I have to prioritize where I need to be. I truly enjoy the people we serve and the challenges they can present medically, and at times behaviorally. The rewards of success always amaze me.”




John Berg

“They say if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. I haven’t been able to work in about a year and a half. I love what I do.”



Rochelle Garnett

“The best thing about working at Opportunity Partners is the one constant ‘teamwork.’ Everyone is willing to help at all times. For instance, I was lost at Koch and not only did persons served offer a helping hand, but staff as well. Aslo the training provided is amazing. I can take what I learned here and execute it anywhere. Anyone working here will be a better person when or if they leave.”


Finding a niche in a time of transition

August 27, 2018

By Ben Kopnick, Program Coordinator, Transitions and Evaluations

When I evaluate transition students at job sites I am constantly reminded how one size does not fit all – and how great that is.

Employers often look for a group of workers who can do one task (or a series of tasks) repeatedly. There is certainly a place for this – businesses have work they want completed that fits this mold.

Madison and her first paycheck!

It’s also nice when the mold can be broken.

Transition students are usually between 18 and 21 years old, a time when most people are exploring and figuring things out – especially when it comes to work. Fitting into a mold isn’t always the best thing in that situation.

I’m reminded of the student who showed interest in organizing the beauty products in a department store, and of the student who loved to clean the tables and countertops in a college cafeteria.

Then there was the student who, when asked, volunteered to work in the stock room of that college cafeteria. This job required stocking food and drinks in freezers and refrigerators and on shelves in a basement room and tracking and re-ordering inventory on a computer. At the beginning of the evaluation, neither Opportunity Partners nor the student’s school planned for this job to be part of the evaluation. Because of this student’s willingness to break the mold, it became a part of the evaluation.

These examples of an interest in beauty products, cleaning, and logistical work show the value of exploration at a time when it makes sense for people to learn more about the work world and themselves. These students can take with them not only these areas of interest, but also the knowledge that they don’t have to fit in a neat box as they grow.

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.

Success Celebration Winners

On September 9, we held our annual Success Celebration and awarded five recipients with awards for Impact, Choice, Heart, Partnership and Spirit. Read their nominations below!

Thomas – Impact

Thomas has made tremendous strides in advocating for himself to find independent employment. Thomas received an opportunity to work at a Supported Employment Team (SET) site. On the job, Thomas developed great relationships and was offered another shift due to his excellent work ethic. Shortly after, the SET site closed and he lost his job. Thomas found another SET site position quickly thanks to his work reputation within OP. Soon, another SET site wanted Thomas to work for him and he took on two positions! Last month, one of his sites closed, but Thomas handled this disappointment in a mature way. Thomas plans to learn more computer skills and take on more independence at home and work. Thanks for all you do, Thomas!


Dawn – Choice

Dawn is a great example of how the power of choice can affect one’s life. Last year, she had the opportunity to take charge of her life and start making her own decisions. Dawn and staff figured out a budget, including ensuring she had enough money to meet her physical needs and to have some fun money. Dawn made the decision to change where she went shopping and what she ate. She also decided to look for a new job, and now works with a job coach to find a job that meets her preferences. Congratulations, Dawn!



Tyler – Heart

Tyler, better known as Ty, starts his day by greeting everyone with a big smile on his face. Ty always makes sure that the people around him are doing well, no matter what struggles Ty may be dealing with. One day, Ty was struggling with a transition and saw a coworker in bad spirits. Ty stopped in his tracks to help his coworker and figure out what was wrong. Ty and his friend had some laughs and moved on with their days. By lending a hand, Ty helped himself without realizing it. Ty exemplifies Heart every day, despite his own personal challenges. Way to go, Ty!



Michelle – Partnership

Michelle worked hard this summer to complete a Red Cross First AID/CPR/AED course. She was persistent and didn’t let technology issues slow her down. Michelle hopes her new skills will keep customers and coworkers safe at work. She also participates in different organizations to help others. Michelle was featured by Wingspan for participating in Made in the Shade, a fundraising event. Michelle raised over $800 this year! She is an inspiration to her peers and coworkers. Congrats, Michelle!




Leo – Spirit

Leo has the biggest heart around. He is always willing to help any coworker or staff by opening a door or passing out materials in class. Leo will always invite you to sit with him at lunch or play basketball. He says hi to everyone in the halls and has many friends. Leo also participates in the Buddy-Up committee, which partners new people served with friendly faces to show them around the site. Thanks for all you do, Leo!



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.

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