Fifty years ago, Walter Franks, described as a ‘typical cowboy,’ came upon a car broken down on Highway 97 near his ranch south of Bend. “What’s the problem?” he asked. It turns out, the families were on their way to a makeshift “school” at one of their homes when the car broke down.
Franks was the kind of person who noticed “differences,” not “defects.” He was shocked to learn that at that time in Oregon, local school districts were not responsible for educating students with special needs. “That’s not right!” Franks recalls saying. “Everyone deserves the opportunity to go to school.”
He was so stunned by the families’ plight that, in 1964, Franks found ten like-minded Directors who shared his vision for a community that cares about all of its citizens, and together they formed a non-profit foundation. During its first year, Franks anonymously made two donations, totaling $100,000, for the architectural design and building located on twenty-six acres in east Redmond, where our main headquarters, and park are still located.
Dozens of local residents, business people and service club members built the original structure, free of halls, to accommodate up to fifty children. With classrooms, kitchen facilities, and a multipurpose area, the children finally had a place to learn, socialize, and recreate with their peers. In 1967, the foundation added what may be the most important of its services for adults with disabilities – jobs. Adults with special needs were offered paying jobs, tailored to their abilities. This would be the beginning of services for adults at the Opportunity Foundation.
Today, the Opportunity Foundation of Central Oregon is a thriving nonprofit organization with over 200 supported persons and a $7.6 million annual budget. We own and operate 8 residential homes, 3 thrift stores, and a variety of employment programs and services. Our Behavior Consultant Team not only works with the people we support, they offer their expertise and consulting services to other agencies and providers in the tri-county area. The In Home Supports Team works with families and caregivers designing and implementing plans to help their loved ones live richer, more inclusive lives. Our Supported Employment Program is dedicated to finding community-based jobs for all those individuals who can, and want, to work in integrated settings.
“Work is one key to developing personal responsibility and pride. With a paycheck, people feel a part of a team, and they can make their own budgets, pay bills, set goals and realize dreams,” says Seth Johnson, Executive Director for the Opportunity Foundation
“When we focus on a person’s challenges, we miss their possibilities. The real question is not what a person cannot do, but rather what they can do, with or without support, to reach their potential.”
In 2012, 14% of all Oregonians suffered from some form of disability that limited their movements or required them to use specialized equipment to get around. 1 in 5 of us will be in that group by the time we reach 60.