A Promise of We

Together, we are better. 

A popular quote from the late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone is “We all do better when we all do better.”

Yes, yes, yes!

At Opportunity Partners, we’re kicking off 2019 with the phrase “A Promise of We.” What is “A Promise of We”? To us, a Promise of We means that together, we can make a difference.

Together, we are better.

After all, Opportunity Partners has been around since 1953 and we’ve always collaborated with people with disabilities, families, staff, donors, businesses, volunteers, and our entire community to meet our mission of advancing the quality of life for people with disabilities. We must continue to work together to keep moving forward.

We cannot progress with an “us versus them” mentality. We are in this together. We all do better when we all do better.

That is the Promise of We.

Looking ahead to a strong 2019
2018 was a year of transformation for Opportunity Partners. Budget cuts and regulatory changes meant we needed to make some difficult decisions around some of our programs that were no longer financially sustainable. Sunsetting programs affects real people and is never easy. However, I’m pleased that although we closed some of our smaller programs, a number of the impacted individuals were able to transfer into other Opportunity Partners programs. We vow to keep working hard to make our programs the very best they can be, and I thank you for your support during these changes.

Legislative session now underway
The 2019 Minnesota Legislative session began on January 8. Our primary goal this year in working with the nonpartisan disability advocacy group Best Life Alliance is to enact reforms that will help address the severe workforce shortage and stabilize rates for disability services. You can help by contacting your legislators to urge them to prioritize services for people with disabilities. Learn more by emailing info@opportunities.org. We’ll be at the Capitol on March 12 for a rally and meetings with lawmakers. Join us if you can!

Mark your calendar – April 27
Our annual Opportunity Partners Gala is Saturday, April 27. This is the fifth year that we’ve held our largest fundraiser at our Koch Campus in Minnetonka, and I urge you to attend this very special event. It is amazing to see the transformation of our production floor to a stunning event venue and to hear some incredibly inspiring success stories. I hope you can attend and support us at this very important event. Learn more at opportunities.org/gala.

Written by Armando Camacho, President & CEO, Opportunity Partners

Rally with us on March 12

Join us for Disability Services Day at the Capitol, when more than 1,000 direct care staff, self-advocates, families and community members converge on the Minnesota State Capitol to urge lawmakers to prioritize disability services. Attendees from across the state will attend a 10 a.m. rally, followed by meetings with legislators.

This year’s legislative agenda being introduced by the disability advocacy group Best Life Alliance seeks to stabilize rates for disability services and take steps to address the severe workforce shortage in our industry. View the Best Life Alliance hand out.

Learn more about the issues on the Advocacy tab at arrm.org. Join our advocacy efforts by contacting info@opportunities.org or 952-930-4208.

You are an important part of our success

Because of you, we are celebrating 65 years of success and looking forward to a strong future of advancing the quality of life for people with disabilities. We can do so much more, thanks to you!

Heather thanks you. Because of you, Heather gives back to her community in so many ways. Your support provides us the resources we need to help many people, including Heather. Heather never lets her disability slow her down. Her strong work ethic shows as she builds her resume with jobs at Opportunity Partners and in the community. As a proud member of COAL, our self-advocacy group, she participates in food drives and anti-bullying efforts. She also improves our community by volunteering at her church and at a senior care center.

Ginny thanks you. Ginny has a smile for everyone she meets. Your support means we can continue to help people like Ginny who have experienced a brain injury in their lives. Ginny shows compassion and positivity toward others in a way that touches our hearts. Her optimistic spirit and amazing sense of humor lifts up those around her. When she sees her peers struggling, Ginny takes the time to ask what is wrong and lends a listening ear and her comforting presence. Ginny is making a difference each day with her kind and caring personality.

Mark and his mom Patricia thank you. Thanks to your support, Mark has found Opportunity Partners to be a safe and welcoming place to call his village. Mark cannot read, write or speak. Opportunity Partners gives him a place to work in a safe, consistent and supervised environment and to take classes focused on life skills. “Opportunity Partners has provided Mark a community in which he can grow, learn and contribute,” his mom Patricia said. “Mark looks forward to going each day and I feel blessed that they support adults like Mark with special needs.”

This holiday season, you can help us continue to change even more lives. Your gift supports people like Heather, Ginny and Mark. Your gift supports community. Here are just a few examples of what your gift can do:

  • $50 pays for a cooking activity at one of our residences
  • $100 covers one semester of art supplies for a Learning Options class
  • $250 provides cultural opportunities, such as fees for a music class
  • $500 helps with technology skills, such as taking a computer class to build work skills
  • $1,000 provides groceries for one month at one of our residences
  • $2,500 increases independent living by helping with costs to install new technology in one of our residences

Our fiscal year ends on December 31. Make a difference today by making a gift online.

Together, we are better.

Written by Brie Geurink, CFRE, Vice President of Advancement

A Season of Gratitude

As we enter the holiday season, we are so thankful for the wonderful people we serve, their families, our caring, hard-working staff, and everyone who supports Opportunity Partners.

To reflect on gratitude at OP, we asked people we serve to let us know what they are thankful for. Here are some of their responses! (some posts were edited for length and clarity).

“I am thankful for my family that adopted me out of the orphanage in Ukraine. I am also thankful for our military and for trying to fight for our freedoms. I am also thankful for all the hard work that Opportunity Partners does every day.” – Julia

“I am thankful for my nephew, makes me happy and family, money.” – Kayla

“My family, kind people, simple pleasures like hockey games, ice cream and pop machines, and my Opportunity Partners team and friends.” – Mark

“Family, friends, pets, job, food, playing video games and watching movies, going bowling, eating.” – Derek

“ … Family and friends and Arby’s … I cannot wait for Thanksgiving day.” – Michelle

“For having good friends, for my family and my sisters, being alive, good health, for my staff.” – Bill

“I am thankful for my family and friends. I am thankful for Gretchen because she’s like a sister to me. I am thankful for my dad … I am thankful for life because I can’t wait to move out of my house and my parents are letting me do it and making it happen.”
– Laura

“Mom, dad, my brother, aunt and uncle.” – Pat

“I am thankful for Culver’s and family and friends.” – Jake

“I am thankful for dog, music, Jon, mom.” – Kirsten

“I am thankful for my family and friends. I’m thankful for my cousin John. I’m also thankful that God has blessed me in so many different ways.” – David

“I’m thankful for a place to live and food to eat and a community to socialize with.” – Yohan

“I’m thankful to travel to Cleveland with family.” – Zach

“Kids and friends.” – Brandon

“Learning and friends at Opportunity Partners.” – Raymond

“Family because I love them.” – Bobby

“I am thankful for my house, my family, my friends …” – Lacy

“Good weather, good health, making new friends, my family, day program, my job at General Mills.” – Jessica

“My magic boxes and my karate stuff …” – Josh

“Friends they’re nice and helpful.” – Matt

“Family, my health, Thanksgiving turkey, stuffing, roommate, nature, TV, music.” – Bonnie

“For staff, bring me to church concerts, spending time with my family …” – Jessica



Thank you for helping us meet our goal!

Together, we raised more than $33,000 to support our mission of advancing the quality of life for people with disabilities. Our world is enriched when we accept and include all. Your generous support means even more people can experience the dignity of work, the comforts of home, and opportunities to enjoy life surrounded by family, friends, co-workers and a community that cares.

We are overwhelmed with gratitude by the outpouring of support from friends like you.

Together, we can make a difference!

My Three P’s of Philanthropy

Cyndi Lesher, Opportunity Partners Board of Directors

October 22, 2018

By Cyndi Lesher, Opportunity Partners Board of Directors

I’ve been involved with Opportunity Partners in one way or another for 46 years! For me, it’s personal, a privilege and a priority.

Cyndi Lesher, Opportunity Partners Board of Directors

It’s personal. I started my career as a vocational rehabilitation counselor working at Minneapolis Rehab Center. I referred clients to Opportunity Partners (then called Opportunity Workshop) because it was the best organization for people with disabilities. I also met Dennis, a vocational evaluator there who also referred clients to Opportunity Workshop. I later married him. So, I started my career working in rehab, met my husband and discovered my favorite nonprofit all about the same time. It’s been a love affair with Dennis and Opportunity Partners ever since — 46 years and going strong!

It’s a privilege because I believe so strongly in Opportunity Partners’ mission. What could be more important than impacting and improving the quality of life for people with disabilities? We are all, most simply, human. We all want to feel valued, contribute in whatever way we can, love, be loved and feel we matter.

Anyway and anytime I can be part of that, I’m privileged to do so. That’s why I give my time, money and expertise and have for 46 years. I’ve been a volunteer, a Board of Directors member, Board chair and Opportunity Partners advocate. It’s a privilege.

And, it’s a priority for me and my family because of the high impact work we do. I have a direct opportunity to participate in life-changing work. Remember, philanthropy is not just about giving money. It’s also about giving time, energy, attending events and being an advocate for Opportunity Partners’ mission. If not ME, if not YOU, then who?

If you’d like to support Opportunity Partners, consider making a gift on Minnesota’s largest day of charitable giving – Give to the Max Day – on November 15. Gifts can also be made any time online through opportunities.org/donate/. Thank you for your generosity!

In addition to serving as an Opportunity Partners Board of Directors member and chair of the organization’s Advancement Committee, Cyndi is the retired CEO of NSP, an Xcel Energy Co.

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Driskill’s employees featured on KARE 11’s Breaking the News

October 9, 2018

In case you missed it, OP was in the news for National Disability Employment Awareness Month!

KARE 11’s Heidi Wigdahl visited Driskill’s Downtown Market in Hopkins to chat with some of their employees we support!

Opportunity Partners is proud to celebrate NDEAM!

For many people with disabilities, employment is one big step toward independence. Be a part of our conversation using  #NDEAM as we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month this October! Your support helps people succeed!

Calli at Arby’s

Calli is in her third month working at Arby’s in Plymouth as a Dining Room Ambassador. Some of her responsibilities include cleaning and maintaining the dining room, and stocking supplies. She was trained for the job by a peer, Michelle, who has worked at Arby’s for a number of years. The peer mentoring program is part of Opportunity Partners’ Together Works Better initiative. She was hired because of her energy, enthusiasm and friendly personality. These traits are assets in greeting customers and providing the best possible customer experience.

“I learned customer service like to say, ‘Have a good day,’ ‘Thank you for coming,’ and ‘Are you done with your tray?’ ” Calli said.

She works Monday through Friday, covering the busy lunch rush. “I like to work with people and like getting to know the customers,” she said.

Calli, who has lived in her own apartment for 14 years, said she likes to save the money she earns or use it toward bills. “It’s nice to be independent and to be able to do what I want to do.”

Eric at Walgreens

For Eric, working at Walgreens in Maple Grove brings an opportunity to connect with people in his community. “I enjoy it. I like interacting with people and working with the cash register,” he says.

Eric has been a proud Walgreens employee since the beginning of this year. He graduated from high school last year and soon after began working with Opportunity Partners to find a job. “The managers were blown away by his pleasant personality, diligence, and willingness to take on any assigned tasks,” Vocational Evaluation Specialist Anthony Hollingsworth says. “They knew from only a few days into the evaluation that they wanted him on their team!”

When asked if he likes his coworkers, Eric quickly replies, “Oh, totally!” He feels that Walgreens is a great environment for a first job and that he is well supported in working there.

Eric loves the fact that he has a job and that he is able to make his own money. He likes to save up for vacations and will be heading to Mexico with his family next year!

Angela at Kwik Trip

Angela made the choice to seek out competitive, integrated employment when she saw the success of her peers at Karlins Center. On her own, she reached out to the workforce center as well as Kwik Trip. Her persistence eventually led to getting her first independent job!

Working three days a week since July of this year, Angela is hoping she can increase her hours if possible. She loves her coworkers. “They tell me I’m a fast worker,” Angela says. “They tell me I do a good job.” She feels that taking Opportunity Partners’ Walgreens REDI program last year helped prepare her for employment.

At Kwik Trip, Angela’s responsibilities range from cleaning, to stocking, to wrapping bakery items in the kitchen. She hopes to start working the cash register soon. “I like that I’m making more money and that it’s closer to my house,” she says.

Angela is hoping to stay at Kwik Trip long enough to participate in the 401k retirement program.

Tessa at Davanni’s

Tessa has worked at Davanni’s for nine years! She mainly works washing dishes, but knows how to make salads and is now learning how to make hoagies. Tessa says one of the best things about her job is that her managers are incredibly receptive when she tells them she wants to learn new things!

Tessa says she is proud to have her job. “I know it’s hard for other people to have jobs,” she says. Tessa works twelve hours a week and has no plans to slow down soon!

Over the past years, Tessa has learned how to be a better advocate for herself. “I’m shy. So it’s hard to speak up sometimes,” she says. “But seeing other people speak up prompted me to be like ‘I want to learn this.'”

She hopes that her employment success will inspire others to seek competitive, integrated employment in the way that others have inspired her.


Opportunity Partners team members sort and process up to 40,000 clothes hangers each day for Cintas in St. Paul. “It’s nice and fun, and I have good friends here,” said one worker. The site recently relocated to OP’s Koch Campus in Minnetonka, where the hard working crew works on the job Monday through Friday.


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.

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