KOSHKONONG — The 16th annual Spence Jensen Classic golf outing, the sole annual benefit for the Opportunities Inc., will take place Thursday, June 7, at the Koshkonong Mounds Country Club.
The event has raised between $25,000 and $30,000 per year for the Fort Atkinson-based nonprofit agency, helping Opportunities Inc. provide training, employment and assistance to allow people of diverse abilities to maximize their potential and serve as contributing members of their communities.
Opportunities got its start in 1966 as a grassroots effort by local parents who wanted their adult children with disabilities to be able to play a fuller role in the community. They created what then was called a “sheltered workshop,” with community support that allowed adults with disabilities to work at their highest level.
In the past 52 years, the agency has expanded greatly, now serving not only those with intellectual and other disabilities, but also those with other significant barriers to employment.
From its modest beginning serving some 60 people in the Fort Atkinson area, Opportunities now offers a wide range of some 20 different programs, serving some 3,000 youth and adults with diverse abilities through its training, employment, and social enrichment programs.
Opportunities actually payrolls about 5,000 people through Opportunities’ partnership with the State of Wisconsin Department of Vocational Rehabilitation as the employer-of-record for all individuals with diverse abiilities seeking employment.
Recent changes have included an expansion in the community transition services Opportunities offers for youth, the establishment of the OI Works program, the expansion of its social enterprising efforts, and the agency’s foray into advocacy for people with disabilities both locally and nationwide.
OI Works is Opportunities’ own privately funded program focusing on individuals with barriers to employment, including status as a veteran, lack of work history or re-entry into the work world after years caring for children or the household, lack of English fluency or other challenges.
OI Works provides job training and employment for individuals with diverse abilities.
One of the newest partnerships Opportunities has formed, about three years old now, is Children’s Long-Term Support. Through this program, Opportunities partners with counties around the area to serve youth ages 14-18 with diverse abilities. It involves getting these young adults out into the community where they can engage socially, receive mentoring and help identifying volunteer opportunities.
In addition, Opportunities’ Day Services are out and about more and more through Project SERVE, which stands for Social Enrichment Rewards through Valuable Experiences.
“This is really really neat,” said Robin Kennedy, Opportunities’ vice president for mission advancement. “We have people in these day programs partnering with Meals on Wheels and the local food pantry. They are out serving others, and they’re easy to identify in the vests they wear. They get so much out of it,” she said.
The agency’s social enterprising efforts, aimed at continuing Opportunities’ services independent of government funding, include Diversified Personnel Services, its “co-manufacturing” production and assembly operations, and its custom design and print services.
“The money we raise through our social enterprises goes back into the social services that we provide to the community,” Kennedy said.
These social services include Opportunities’ training and employment, youth and support services.
Believing that Opportunities’ mission goes beyond its walls, the organization’s board backed Opportunities’ fledgling advocacy efforts a few years ago, establishing the “A (Advocacy) Team” to assure that opportunities like these continue to be available for people with diverse abilities.
In January this year, the A Team separated out into its own 501c(4) organization, called A-Team Grassroots System Inc.
Kennedy said that Opportunities hopes to raise money to send members of the A-Team to Washington D.C. to share the import of grassroots advocacy in order to assure a full range of services and opportunities remain open to people of diverse abilities.
“It’s all about looking at the strengths and assets that individuals bring and how to maximize them to allow everyone to be a contributing member of our community,” Kennedy said.
She noted that with a large number of jobs available right now and a labor shortage across the state and beyond, individuals with diverse abilities — even if they face some challenges — can be part of the solution.
“If you are part of this golf outing, you are part of this solution,” Kennedy said. “Other employees might push away the individual who doesn’t have the right look or job experience — we call these third-chance people. It’s our job to get them the training, support and experience they need to bring out their strengths so the next time they re-present in the job market, they’re a viable candidate.
Opportunities established its golf outing as the organization’s sole fundraiser in 2002. It is named after Spence Jensen, past-president of the agency, who made significant contributions to the organization and its mission for more than three decades.
In the first year, the golf outing supported Opportunities’ building campaign as the agency’s Fort Atkinson headquarters and its manufacturing plant facilities expanded.
After that, funds raised at the annual golf outing have gone to assist various programs and initiatives at Opportunities, including the vocational scholarship program, additional training and services, and adaptive equipment that has helped people with differing abilities contribute to the workplace.
Jason Frey, executive vice president of Opportunities, said that the agency is so appreciative of the supporters — clients, families, vendors and community members who support the agency’s mission — who turn out year after year to take part in the golf outing and raise funds for Opportunities and the people it serves.
Teams may sign up for the golf outing through the date of the event, and people also may sign on as individuals. This year, Opportunities has an online registration system. People may register at www.spencejensengolfouting.myevent.com.
Donations still are being accepted for the associated auction and raffle.
The “best ball” tournament has a relaxed atmosphere designed to be enjoyed by golfers of all levels of experience, organizers said.
Along with the day of golf and numerous prizes, the event also includes a lunch provided by Rocky Rococo’s of Whitewater, an evening horse d’oeuvres buffet, silent and live auctions and more.
The golf outing will start at 11 a.m. on June 7, with registration and the luncheon, followed by a shotgun start at 11:30 a.m. Play will run through 5 p.m., when the hors d’oeuvres buffet and auction will start.
The day will include several different hole contests out on the green, with some major prizes.
As he has for the past several years, Fox 6 News’ Sports Director Tom Pipines will serve as master of ceremonies and auctioneer.
Kennedy said the golf outing is a great way to bring people together — vendors, supporters, clients, families, staff members, and A-Team advocates — to celebrate and further Opportunities’ mission.
It’s a fundraiser first and foremost, but it also serves an important purpose as a “friend-raiser,” Kennedy said, providing a unique opportunity for the agency to network with its business and community partners and building awareness of what Opportunities does.
“A lot of the vendors we work with have come back year after year,” Frey said. “We are fortunate to have many very committed, loyal partners who have helped us ever since the golf outing started.”
The event has seen good support from local government representatives. For example, state Sen. Steve Nass is confirmed to attend this year’s event.
Platinum sponsors included Associated Bank, which stepped forward to underwrite the entire dinner, and Willis Tower Watson, which underwrote all golf cart sponsorships.
Gold sponsors include Rocky Rococo’s, which is providing the lunch and a gift certificate for free pizza for a year, along with Culvers’ corporate office, Griffin Ford Lincoln of Fort Atkinson, Managed Packaging of Hartland and Maas Bros. Construction of Watertown.
Silver sponsors include PremierBank of Fort Atkinson and the WIPFLI LLP auditing firm of Madison.