By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — Since its founding in 1965, Opportunity Development Centers Inc. (ODC) has evolved from a work center for individuals with disabilities to a place that strives to get those individuals employed in the community.
ODC has facilities in both Marshfield and Wisconsin Rapids and works with businesses throughout central Wisconsin to find employment for individuals with disabilities. Both the Marshfield and Wisconsin Rapids locations opened in 1965 but started as separate organizations. Parent groups founded both locations as they saw that there was not much programming in place to help their children with disabilities after high school.
ODC is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
“The mission has evolved over the years to incorporate more about community because as we’ve seen ODC and society evolve, we really recognize that the next 50 years, we’re really going to be focusing more of our effort on getting people more jobs in the community, more involvement in the community,” said ODC President Pam Ross.
While the goal is to get individuals working in the community, ODC does have a wide range of work opportunities under its own roof, which can also serve as a training ground to transition individuals to outside employment.
“Now it’s evolving where what we’re really trying to do rather than sending people into the facility is use that facility as a tool, a training grounds, but really turn it around and say people with disabilities can work in the community, and so that’s the cool part of the evolution,” Ross said.
The Marshfield facility has a wood fabrication operation, an industrial-grade kitchen that can provide catering services, and multiple workstations where individuals with disabilities are employed doing a wide variety of tasks. The in-facility work at ODC is generally part of a contract with other businesses.
“We have programming that happens within our facilities in Rapids and Marshfield, and then we have a lot of programming that happens out in the businesses in the community,” Ross said. She later added, “Back in the day when ODC started and had this facility, we were the place that people could go. Now we really are wanting the community to be that place.”
In 2014, 486 individuals participated in 611 programs offered by ODC. Also in 2014, 160 employers partnered with ODC to provide opportunities for employment for individuals with disabilities. Common industries that individuals from ODC are hired for are retail, housekeeping, and janitorial services. While there are common fields for these individuals, ODC Director of Community and Donor Relations Jennifer Blum said they also have an individual in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit at Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital.
ODC’s employer of the year in 2014 in Wisconsin Rapids was Walmart, and in Marshfield it was Scotty’s Pizza, which illustrates the diversity of businesses ODC works with, Ross noted.
The extent to which ODC is involved with each individual varies depending on that person’s specific needs. Ross added that many individuals ODC works with never spend a moment inside of their facilities in Wisconsin Rapids and Marshfield but rather use ODC’s services to help find an employment match.
“There’s a spectrum of independence, and we just want to get them as far along that spectrum as it works for them,” Ross said.
Job coaching is a large component of what ODC does, and they tailor an approach that will meet the needs of each person.
Often people will approach an entity like Community Care Connections of Wisconsin or the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to discuss their needs, and those organizations in turn contract with ODC to help the individuals find employment and gain independence.
Ross said that businesses often find that individuals with disabilities become some of their most reliable workers.
“Employers find that when they hire through us if the job match is good, generally speaking, the turnover is very low, the person is appreciative, they’re eager. We hear that over and over again. They really stick because they’re happy to have that job. They come to work every day. Employers are looking for that,” Ross said.
Blum added that often employers approach ODC with the idea that employing a person with disabilities is simply a good thing to do, but they end up finding that the person is a tremendous asset to their business.
ODC also offers what they call “Day Services,” which focus on activities other than work. Those activities might be recreational, educational, or teaching independent living skills. Ross hopes Day Services can follow a similar path to ODC’s work-related services, getting individuals involved in the community rather than under the roof of ODC.
Both Ross and Blum said that working in this field has given them a sense of purpose in their work.
“I’ve been here almost 30 years, and what keeps me coming back is just that you know you have impact. You know that it’s important. What you’re doing is really important to people and that it’s appreciated and that you actually can see this person coming in and the evolution of the person and the growth.” Ross said.
“Working with people with disabilities in a setting where your colleagues are people with disabilities gives you a really whole new sort of perspective on life,” Blum said. “It’s really meaningful.”
To learn more about Opportunity Development Centers Inc., to set up a tour of the facility, or to donate to the organization, visit odcinc.com or call 715-387-1161 to reach the Marshfield location.