Celebrating 20 Years of OS in St. Cloud!

Opportunity Services, a local nonprofit that assists adults with disabilities, is celebrating its 20thanniversary in the St. Cloud area this year. Opportunity Services has assisted adults with disabilities to find competitive employment in the community for over 45 years in Minnesota and currently provides services in 3 states. In 1999, Opportunity Services responded to a request-for-proposal after two sheltered workshops abruptly closed in the St. Cloud area. Opportunity Services created an innovative and creative proposal, suggesting they could transform the lives of 150 adults with disabilities from sheltered work to community employment within 1-2 years. Much to everyone’s surprise, this change was made in only six months! Opportunity Services 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 2 decades.

With the transformation in St. Cloud, 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.

According to the US 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.

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.

Opportunity Services is excited to look to the future, to the next 20 years in St. Cloud and beyond! Helping adults with disabilities find a job in the community provides much more than a paycheck, it’s providing an identity, pride and a true sense of belonging.