State Rep. Jeff Keicher (R-DeKalb) might have a unique vantage point in Springfield, but he recognizes that many programs that benefit residents come not from the state capital, but from the ground up in local communities. He is highlighting one such nonprofit every week on Community Corners, video interviews that are featured on Facebook.
Keicher kicked off the series this week by talking with Bob Shipman, executive director of Opportunity House, which is based in Sycamore. The nonprofit provides services for adults with developmental disabilities who have outgrown school but still need some assistance with daily living, employment and recreation activities. Keicher toured the flagship facility, which contains an in-house sheltered workshop, and then sat down for a chat with Shipman.
Shipman explained the genesis of the program, which began in 1963 when a handful of families got together to form the De Kalb Family Association for the Mentally Retarded and opened a workshop where seven individuals could get together to do something during the day and make a little money.
“Home grown; families saw a need and got together to help their kids,” Keicher notes.
“There wasn’t anything at the time,” Shipman said.
Now Opportunity House operates a plethora of programs designed to help developmentally disabled people live as independently, and as comfortably and happily, as possible.
The nonprofit operates eight residential facilities where residents receive 24-hour care and supervision. Up to eight people can live in each Community Integrated Living Arrangement facility; all are licensed by the Department of Human Services. It also runs a larger group home for 16 people, known as a Community Living Facility, that provides the same services, which include medical monitoring, budget education and assistance, transportation and more.
In addition, those who can live in their own apartments receive support for assisted living. Those living on their own or those who live with their families or in other arrangements get help from Home-Based Support Services via a services facilitator to help them with getting benefits, employment and other needs.
Opportunity House wants everyone to function to the best of their ability, and so it offers a wide range of instruction in its Developmental Training program—everything from social skills to self-care to prevocational skills. Those who have the desire and ability to move into assisted employment receive training not just in actual vocational skills, but such “soft skills” as showing up for work on time, following instructions, interacting with coworkers and workplace safety.
Clients can, if they wish, work with assistance in affiliated local job sites or at Ohio Industries, Opportunity House’s on-site packing and assembly operation.
But it is not only survival and physical needs that are stressed, but also opportunities for fun and socialization. The nonprofit offers approximately 10 recreational activities every month designed cover a variety of interests: dances, movies, outings, arts and crafts, shopping and more. Its clients can also participate in eight Special Olympic sports.
“They do tremendous work empowering people with developmental disabilities,” Keicher writes on the Facebook post.