KOSHKONONG — As Opportunities Inc. celebrates its 50th anniversary, the nonprofit agency is gearing up for its 14th annual Spence Jensen Classic golf outing on Thursday, June 2, at Koshkonong Mounds Country Club.
Opportunities’ sole public fundraiser, the event helps the agency provide training, employment and assistance so people maximize their potential and serve as contributing members of their communities.
It started 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 allowing the adults with disabilities to work at their highest level. In the past five decades, the agency has expanded greatly, now serving not only those with disabilities, but also people with any significant barrier to employment.
“We’ve gone from the idea of working with people of disabilities to working with people of diverse abilities,” said Robin Kennedy, vice president of mission advancement for Opportunities. “Opportunities Inc. specializes in serving all those who have the desire to work and just need an ‘opportunity’ to succeed,” agreed Kayla Oschmann, agency relations specialist at Opportunities.
Kennedy noted that Opportunities began in “kind of one-room-school setting. “At the time, we served less than 60 people, and now we touch the lives of some 3,000 people per year through our training, employment, and social enrichment programs,” she said.
Opportunities actually payrolls about 5,000 people, but 2,000 of those come through its offshoot, Diversified Personnel Services, and the temporary work experiences it provides in area communities.
“One thread that’s been consistent throughout our 50 years is that we’ve continued to listen and respond to the changing needs of our community,” Kennedy said. As its reach has grown, the agency’s profile in the community has as well. People better understand its mission, which states, “Opportunities Inc. provides services for individuals for the purpose of maximizing their success and enhancing their abilities to be independent, contributing members of the community.”
Big changes in the past decade include an expansion into community transitions for youth, the establishment of the OI Works program, the expansion of its social enterprising, and venturing into advocacy for people with disabilities both locally and nationwide.
Kennedy said that Opportunities has become an expert in recent years in helping young people with disabilities transition into adult roles in the community. Right now, it works with more than 17 school districts, making sure youth with disabilities connect with work experiences in the local community to prepare them for future roles as contributing community members.
The second innovation, the OI Works program, is Opportunities’ own privately funded program focusing on individuals with barriers to employment. These could include being a veteran, having physical or other disabilities, lacking English fluency, challenges involving re-entry into the work environment after several years as a housewife/husband or spouse, lack of work experience or chronic unemployment.
“This really reaches individuals who other employers have discarded,” Kennedy said.
“We are really here to help anybody that wants to go down a career path,” Jason Frey, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Opportunities, added.
In terms of social enterprising, Kennedy said this effort is aimed at continuing Opportunities’ services without relying on government funding. Its social enterprising arms 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 services, youth services and support services. “Our organization is really driven by our board of directors and president,” Kennedy said. “we believe our mission goes beyond our walls.”
As such, Opportunities began to get involved in advocacy a couple of years ago, establishing the “A Team” to assure that opportunities likes these continue to be available for people with disabilities in general.
Governmentally, Opportunities is defined as a Community Rehabilitation Program or CRP. When larger institutions that once served people with disabilities closed down, CRPs stepped in to serve the same population within the local community.
“We are doing extremely well in our business model, but we are here to support other organizations in this position, organizations which might be smaller and struggling in the current climate,” Kennedy said.
Addressing how Opportunities has continued to thrive and grow over the years, Kennedy said it really comes down to having a “heart for people and a head for business.”
Meanwhile, the golf outing was established in 2002 and is named after Spence Jensen, past president of Opportunities Inc., who made significant contributions to individuals with disabilities and barriers to employment for more than three decades.
In the first year, the golf outing supported Opportunities’ “Building for the Future” capital campaign for a major building expansion. After that, funds raised at the Spence Jensen Classic — some $20,000 to $25,000 per year — have assisted various programs and initiatives at Opportunities, including the vocational scholarship program, additional training and services, and specialized adaptive equipment that has helped people with differing abilities contribute in the workplace.
To date, these golf outings have raised around $300,000 to continue Opportunities’ mission in the local area. Frey said that the agency is pleased to see such consistent support for the golf outing all of these years. “It’s great to have such a strong turnout from our vendors, parents, families, and other supporters in the community,” he said.
As of two weeks ago, 30 teams already had signed up for the 2016 golf outing, with registrations coming in faster than usual due to an early bird registration special. Teams may sign up for the golf outing through the date of the event; however, and gifts and donations still are being accepted for the associated auction and raffle.
The “best-ball” tourney has a relaxed atmosphere that can be enjoyed by golfers with all levels of experience, organizers said.
“It seems to be a good date for golfers, and we get people coming out from all over the area,” Frey said.
Besides the day of golf and numerous prizes, the event also includes a lunch provided by Rocky Rococo’s of Whitewater, an evening hors d’oeuvres buffet, silent and live auctions and raffle drawings.
The golf outing will start at 11 a.m. on June 2 with registration and a 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 start.
The day will include several different hole contests out on the green, including a “beat the pro” contest. Havill-Spoerl Automotive has donated a flat screen TV for one of the hole contest prizes. There also will be team prizes.
In another highlight of the golf outing, Fox 6 News’ Sports Director Tim Pipines again will serve as the master of ceremonies for the day and also will serve as the auctioneer in the evening. “He has been a great supporter, and has been part of this for about five years,” Frey said.
Finally, Spence Jensen and his family are expected to be at the event to mark this important milestone.
Kennedy said that the golf outing will be a good way for vendors, families and supporters to celebrate the agency’s 50th anniversary. A formal anniversary celebration is being coordinated for later in the year, but a date for that celebration has yet to be announced.