One portion of our Strategic Plan was to better educate the community on disabilities and the role that our organization plays in the lives of people with disabilities.  I have the privilige participating on this committee.  One outcome that we have reached is to collaborate with our local newpaper, The Williston Herald, and post an article each month.  The name of our article is ‘Opportunity Knocks’.  (Our agency is Opportunity Foundation.)  Our first article was printed in August and was written by our Executive Director, Charlie Robinson.  It lays out the history of our agency and headlines future articles.  I enjoyed reading the article and thought I would share it.  Stay tuned though, our November post is currently schedule to be about our agency going paperles….which of course means….THERAP!

Historically, people with disabilities have “experienced” the gamut when considering how society “welcomed” them into their fold, from abandonment to institutionalization, most recently (the last 30 years) acceptance. North Dakota was no different than any other state, relying on a large institution, the Grafton State School for placement of anyone who didn’t fit in, usually due to a developmental disability, and up until the mid 1980’s the home for over two thousand citizens! It took a lawsuit to change people’s minds, but as of 1984, any citizen of North Dakota, regardless of disability, had the right to live in the least restrictive environment possible!

This is where Opportunity Foundation Inc., a non-profit corporation, entered the picture, founded in 1983, to provide any necessary supports for people who moved from the Grafton State School to the Williston area! At the time the so-called service model included “group homes” and a “sheltered workshop”, a place to live and work in the community, still somewhat isolated from other citizens, but a definite improvement from living on a ward with 30 other individuals and eating from metal trays in a food center!  Beginning with two homes with occupancy of 8 each, a “training” center for day activity, and employing 25 staff, Opportunity Foundation began its endeavor. Within 2 years of opening our doors, 2 more homes were added, each providing a residence for 8 individuals, everyone still “working” at our sheltered workshop.

            It was shortly after these homes were added there was a major change in our service model. What we had done up to this point was an improvement; however essentially all we had done was create smaller institutions, why not look a individual needs and interests and match the supports to the individual? Why couldn’t someone live in an apartment or their own home and work in the community? Following this rationale, a program was designed and implemented to provide individualized staff supports, based on need, called Independent Supported Living Arrangements, or ISLA. Quickly people moved out of the group homes and into apartments, as well as several people purchasing their own homes. In the area of work, the Supported Employment model was implemented, providing individualized support in jobs around the community. As there were more people than jobs, Opportunity Foundation set out to create several small businesses, offering more choices for those who did not find individual jobs. Over the Rainbow Daycare, Wise Penny thrift store, OSOM carwash, a Yard crew, and our association with the operation of the Williston Recycling Center were started. At about the same time all of these changes were occurring, all community providers like us began their association with “The Council on Quality and Leadership” or CQL, the recognized leader for quality of life for people with disabilities and people with mental illness, and the people, organization and communities who support them. The standards set by CQL help ensure a high quality of life for each individual!

            Today Opportunity Foundation provides residential and work support for over sixty individuals in the Tri-County area, as well Family Support services, employing over 125 staff in our endeavors. Our vision for everyone is “People Experiencing all that Life has to Offer.” Our organizational mission is “Opportunity Foundation is passionately committed to providing a full spectrum of individualized supports and services for people!” In future columns we look forward to providing you more information on what we are all about and the people we support, as they fulfill their dreams!