People & Places - April 2019

Opportunity Services marks 20 years in Central Minnesota

Opportunity Services, a Minnesota nonprofit that assists adults with disabilities, is celebrating its 20th anniversary in Central Minnesota this year. The nonprofit has helped adults with disabilities find identity in their work, gain self-esteem and obtain a true sense of community in St. Cloud for the last two decades.

The Minnesota branch of Opportunity Services is part of a larger organization that has operated in Minnesota since 1973, starting in Red Wing. It has operations in Massachusetts and Florida and holds Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) status. It serves adults with disabilities who seek job assistance or community immersion and employers seeking to create a more diverse and richer workplace. Opportunity Services boasts more than 100 business partners nationwide.

In Minnesota Opportunity Services has its corporate in Hennepin County. It serves clients in Minneapolis, Coon Rapids, Blaine, Savage, Woodbury, St. Cloud, Rochester, Byron, Kasson and Red Wing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is typically double the unemployment rate for the rest of the population. Currently, tight labor markets are forcing businesses to look at people with disabilities as a new, untapped resource. Employment is typically the catalyst of change for people with disabilities: with successful employment comes money, the skills to use public transportation, new living arrangements and total independence.

Opportunity Services has a long history of helping people find supportive employment and providing day services. The nonprofit also helps clients move from group work settings to independent jobs.

One proud piece of Opportunity Services’ past was in 1999, when two sheltered workshops in the St. Cloud area abruptly closed. The nonprofit quickly responded to a request for proposals prompted by the closing. Opportunity Services created an innovative and creative proposal, suggesting it could transform the lives of 150 adults with disabilities from sheltered work to community employment within 1-2 years. Much to everyone’s surprise, the change was made in only six months.

Heath is another success story. Heath’s story is a great example of the Opportunity Services history brought to life. Heath was working at a sheltered workshop before 1999, making bolts every day. He is quick to tell anyone that he didn’t like the job because he yearned for real work in the community. Once Opportunity Services began the transformation, Heath was placed on a work team at the Holiday Inn. He enjoyed learning new work skills and interacting with hotel guests. After two years on the team, Heath was ready for his own job. An Opportunity Employment Specialist met with him one-on-one to discuss his employment goals and identify potential employers in the community.

Heath quickly got his own job at Walmart in maintenance. He’s been with Walmart for 18 years now! “I love my job,” said Heath. “I have a lot of fun interacting with customers and I always greet everyone with a smile.” Rhonda Karels, Heath’s current employment specialist, enjoys visiting him on the job. “Everyone knows Heath. Many of his managers and co-workers have mentioned how great he is for morale in the store. His big smile truly brightens up the place.” Following some initial training on crosswalks, Heath now walks to work every day. He loves his job at Walmart because he is out in the community and would like to work there forever.

These and many other success stories show that Opportunity Services has stayed true to its mission and vision: to assist people with disabilities to make meaningful, individual contributions in the community and to see communities openly engaging in contributions from people with disabilities. By converting sheltered workshops into integrated, community employment, Opportunity Services has given these individuals the tools to change much more than employment in their lives.

Opportunity Services is excited to look to the future, to the next 20 years in St. Cloud and beyond. Anyone wishing more information can go to www.oppserv.org



Adapted hockey champs crowned

Repeat champions highlighted the 2019 Minnesota State High School League’s Adapted Hockey Tournament, held in March at Bloomington Jefferson high School.

The 2019 CI Division champions are again from St. Cloud Area. The Slapshots topped the South Washington County Thunderbolts, 16-5 in the title game. Brian Jones led St. Cloud with six goals and four assists. Jones finished the three-game tournament with a record-setting 21 goals. Jordan Williams added six points (five goals plus one assist) for the Slapshots. South Washington County’s Tyler Tinucci had three goals for the Thunderbolts.

This was the third overall title for St. Cloud Area. The Slapshots won their first championship in 2007.

St. Cloud topped Maple Grove and New Prague/TCU/LSH/Belle Plaine/ Jordan to get to the title game. It was the second title in a row for St. Cloud, and the second championship win in a row over South Washington County. New Prague/TCU/LSH/Belle Plaine/Jordan topped Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville for third place. Maple Grove defeated White Bear Lake Area for the consolation title. Other teams in the tournament were Anoka Hennepin and Dakota United.

The CI All-Tournament Team members are Tavis Dean, White Bear Lake; Mohammed Konneh, Maple Grove; Lucas Alexander and Natalya Hawley, Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville; Blake Perry and Garett Gagner, New Prague/TCU/LSH/Belle Plaine/Jordan; Nathan Ponder, Jack Swedahl and Tyler Tinucci, South Washington County and Matthew Neuman, Jordan Williams and Brian Jones, St. Cloud Area.

In the PI Division the Brainerd Warriors won their second consecutive title and fourth overall after defeating Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka 13-1. In addition to the past two years, Brainerd also won in 1998 and 2000. This was the second consecutive runner-up showing for the Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka Robins.

Seven different players scored for Brainerd in the final game. Tre’Von Otey, Blaise Edinger and Alex Goedker all had three goals in the game for the Warriors. The champions scored goals back-to-back. In each period they had a pair of goals between 24-46 seconds apart. Vincent Luu had the only goal for Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka. Brainerd topped Minneapolis South and Dakota United to reach the title game. Dakota United bounced back to take third place, topping Rochester. Maple Grove won the crown, defeating Anoka-Hennepin. St. Paul Humboldt was also in the tournament.

PI All-Tournament Team members are Cole Andrzcyzak, Anoka-Hennepin; Hayden Audette, Maple Grove; Sam Gerten and Blake Jefferson, Dakota United; Blake Hillman and Garrison Israelson, Richer; Izear Joiner, Vincent Luu and Sam Roles, Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka, and Matt Allford, Tre’Von Otey and Blaise Edinger, Brainerd.