Some of us wince at the ring of the morning alarm. Not the workforce of Opportunity Village.
Few locals are happier to go to work.
“I tell everybody there is no such thing as a bad day at Opportunity Village,” Executive Director Ed Guthrie said. “Where else do people get off the bus for work and want to be there?”
For 18 years now, Guthrie has led the highly successful not-for-profit organization that provides programs for people with intellectual disabilities. The most notable is the employment training program, which helps develop clients into productive and independent members of our community — an option that wouldn’t have been considered just a few decades ago.
Prior to the mid-1970s, parents of children with Down syndrome often were advised to institutionalize their kids early in infancy. Some parents never even saw their children before they were taken away.
Many adults with intellectual disabilities were used as subjects in drug tests.
“We did not consider them humans,” Guthrie said.
It’s a sad thought now for anyone who has seen Guthrie’s clients at work, as so many of us locals have.
Fortunately, after the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, more caring and thoughtful approaches evolved, with Opportunity Village serving as one of the best examples. Today, 750 adults show up for work every day at one of three campuses or thrift stores.
Money generated from the enterprises is re-invested into Opportunity Village services. The organization operates as much as a business as it does a nonprofit. The board, staff and volunteers are held accountable for their performance. And they all keep an eye on finances.
“You can’t lose more than you make,” Guthrie said. “You also have to make sure you have money for a rainy day. Because even in the desert, it rains.”
Because of its household-name status and the revenue people such as Associate Executive Director Linda Smith generate — she’s one of the more skilled fundraisers in the region — Opportunity Village has become a model for other nonprofits. It’s also a brand leaders are careful to protect. The organization has declined partnerships that didn’t fit the group’s mission or intended image.
“We’ve always said that the most valuable thing at Opportunity Village is its reputation,” Guthrie said. “I give a great deal of credit to the board and staff because they’re constantly keeping the brand top of mind.”
They’re also constantly on the lookout for ways to generate more revenue that will allow them to provide more services. Weekly tours are one strategy.
“Part of our job is to let people know what we can do, and the best way is to show them,” Guthrie said.
Guthrie sits in the middle of it all. His office is in a service area for adults with the most severe disabilities. His stories lift you up.
“There’s no such thing as a bad day at Opportunity Village,” he said.
You walk away knowing that’s true.