News and Events

The Connection Challenge

November 16, 2015

By: Lee Stagni, Parent and Opportunity Partners Advocate

lee editAs a parent or guardian of someone with a disability, you have developed a unique set of skills – it’s called advocacy. These powerful skills involve recognizing the needs of your loved one and speaking out for-or-against policies and decisions that directly impact that person.

You may have started your advocacy journey when your child was young.

It was that way for my wife Kathy and me when we began advocating for our daughter Melissa nearly 27 years ago. It started by engaging the medical team who saved her life when she was two days old and in a coma. The bond that was created with that team continues to this day. Our advocacy continued at school where we fought hard for the inclusion of challenging goals in Melissa’s IEP (Individual Education Plan). Our goal was to give her every chance to grow into the most capable person possible. We are very happy with the results.

We are now focused on the future. Our goal is to help Melissa obtain challenging and rewarding employment. Certainly no easy task for a person with a disability.

Five years ago when Melissa completed her transition program, we interviewed a number of day programs and selected Opportunity Partners. Our decision was based on their long history of providing services for adults with disabilities, their Koch Campus reminded Melissa of Wayzata High School which she thoroughly enjoyed, and the staff was eager to listen to our goals and help us achieve them.

Since joining OP, Melissa has had some great jobs. She has worked on the packaging line at neighboring EPCO; she worked at the General Mills bakery, worked at the Star Tribune scanning and filing historical documents, and she now works on the packaging line at Nordic Ware and in the mail room at the Koch Campus. In between these assignments, she has worked on the Koch production floor.

She was one of the first participants in Opportunity Partners’ office assistant Certified Learning Platform. I remember the day she graduated from the program. She said, “Now I can get an office job like you, Dad.” We soon discovered that there are very few office jobs available. So I set out to change that.

I approached the owner of Grand Restaurant Equipment, where I was working at the time. I knew the company’s project managers produced a ton of paper and dreaded filing because it was not the best use of their time. I proposed creation of a “file clerk” position for Melissa. She would come to the office one morning a week and file paperwork, shred documents, stuff envelopes and maintain price catalogs. Management was hesitant at first, but agreed to give it a try.

I contacted OP job developer Rick Grimes who came to Grand and provided the staff with a training on how to work alongside a person with a disability; Rick also helped to organize the work so that it aligned with Melissa’s capabilities. And then he assigned an OP job coach who worked alongside Melissa until she was comfortable working alone.

Melissa thrived in this position. Her social interaction skills blossomed. Her filing was meticulous – the company never found a document misfiled. And what was even more remarkable was the transformation of the Grand staff. Everyone seemed to become a little more patient. Each week they would come together to prepare and organize the work for Melissa the next day.

Melissa continued this job for a couple of years until the company was sold and the new owner moved administration (and paperwork) to its home office. She asks about her next “office job” nearly every day.

This experience has shown me that while OP has the resources and support staff to engage Melissa and her peers with work opportunities these can only be realized if OP is connected to the right employer.

This is where you can put your advocacy skills to work.

Let’s call it The Connection Challenge. The goal is to get each parent/guardian to connect the OP staff with a prospective job/work provider. Imagine the power of this advocacy.

The influx of prospective work could totally transform the organization’s effectiveness in securing rewarding employment for the people they serve – our sons and daughters!

You can find these opportunities all around you. At your workplace. Through a relative, friend, neighbor or church. The secret is to THINK OP as you interact with people. Just mention that you are looking to connect them to OP so that OP can develop job opportunities for your son or daughter.

Your involvement ends when you make the connection. You bring together the prospect and the OP staff and they take it from there. They are very skilled at this and you will be proud of how they interact with your connection.

Let us all join together to advocate for Opportunity Partners, collectively empowering them to bring rewarding employment opportunities to the ones that we love.

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