Like everyone else, Opportunities Inc., has adjusted to a new normal. But for clients at the Texarkana-based nonprofit, a global pandemic has delivered a double whammy.
“We serve a vulnerable population, not only with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but with medical conditions,” said Sherry Young, the executive director of Opportunities, Inc. “We’ve had to temporarily close certain programs. We’ve not been able to utilize volunteers due to potential exposure to facilities, client and staff. So, it’s affected not only our clients, but our staff.”
Clay Roberts knows the impact personally. Regions Bank’s market executive for this city on the Texas-Arkansas border first served on the Opportunities Inc., board of directors in 2005.
“The clients get so much out of being productive,” Roberts said. “COVID has hit this group hard, because they’re used to being out in the community, seeing people, working on regular schedules. It’s affected their frame of mind, just like it has a lot of people who are shut in.”
Yet the work at Opportunities Inc., continues through the determination of the staff and the children and adults who call the facility a second home.
In fact, it is home for 35 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities who live in their residential facilities. For children, Opportunities Inc. offers early intervention and school readiness curriculum. For those making the transition to adulthood there is an active scouting program.
But the next big step is an on-campus career training program that will provide jobs, salary and a future. Three social enterprise models will focus on business services, creative arts and horticulture.
“It’s amazing,” said Schiela Peña, community relations officer for Regions. “As I visit a lot of these markets, most have day centers. But Opportunities has classes where they can explore and identify talents and develop skillsets.”
The new models include:
- Business Service Model — Adult Work clients will provide business services, such as printing, collating, shredding, and packaging to local businesses and individuals.
- Creative Arts Enterprise — This expression allows individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities the ability to relay their feelings and ideas with others.
- Horticulture Enterprise — Opportunities, Inc. will use horticulture to provide individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities the benefits of gardening experiences as a part of their vocational and occupational training.
“They focus on finding what makes you tick, then developing skills. It’s a holistic approach, and it’s great therapy. For example, they are teaching you to use your hands and see something grow,” Peña added.
A $280,000 grant from T.L.L. Temple Foundation will play a big role in making the enterprise social models a reality. Donations from Regions, part of a long-standing relationship between the bank and Opportunities Inc., will help support the new model.
Sherry Young, the executive director at Opportunities, Inc., can barely hide her excitement over what comes next.
“We’ll have to hire and create new positions, from a creative arts instructor to a horticulture specialist to help us get our greenhouse running,” Young said. “We’ll construct a garden center here on campus to grow plants for sale to the community.”
The business service side will open first, pending certification, ensuring businesses that their documents will be taken and disposed of properly.
Regions is also using its expertise to help bank accounts of clients grow.
Don Kimmell, a financial wellness relationship manager based in Shreveport, Louisiana, will direct a 30-day money management virtual module for Opportunities Inc. clients focused on controlling every-day expenses.
“The first thing we learn is to pay ourselves first,” Kimmell said. “Then you start saving by identifying where your money goes. Most everyone’s living paycheck to paycheck, but once you go through this you learn to adjust by simply asking, how many colas am I buying? How much am I going out to eat?
Clay Roberts made the connection with Opportunities Inc. 20 years ago when he moved back to Texarkana. While on his board orientation tour, he discovered the Arkansas Children’s program, which provided services he thought could benefit his twin sons who had been diagnosed with learning disabilities. Clay and his wife Kim leaned on Opportunities Inc.’s expertise for assessment and two years of speech and physical therapy that prepared them for school.
“Today, they are graduating high school seniors with great grades and are preparing to attend the University of Arkansas this fall,” Roberts said. “The support Opportunities, Inc. provided our family has made serving as a past board president and a board member for many years even more rewarding.”
Opportunities, Inc. has been creating such opportunities since 1966. But despite the pandemic and the recent winter storm that paralyzed much of the state, this nonprofit’s best days are ahead.
“We are so excited about our enterprise system,” said Rebekah Drennon, the development director at Opportunities, Inc. “The opportunity to work with businesses and create jobs takes it to another level.”
And Regions is excited to be a part of this.
“What I love about Regions and the work they’re doing goes back to what Kathy Lovell, our disability services and outreach manager, talks about: how we help you live your best life,” Pena said. “When you talk about self-sufficiency and empowerment, you’re talking about something that’s life changing. Parents are excited about this, and I’m excited because the best is yet to come.”