Community engagement groups have fun, do good in metro

By Opportunity Partners

In January 2019, Opportunity Partners (OP) in Minnetonka launched a new service   “Engage with My Community.”

A staff member took on a newly blended role of service coordinator and community enrichment instructor, supporting a group of three individuals with disabilities on activities in their own communities each week.

They are planned by the group, and staff provides the transportation to and from the individuals’ homes. Each pays any fees associated with the activities they choose, while OP covers the staff fees. Activities at the start included volunteering, Minnesota Twins games, bowling, and visits to local coffee shops, libraries and museums, just to name a few.

This service model aligns with Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan, the Federal Home & Community Based Services Settings Rule, and the requests of individuals with disabilities advocating for more options to be meaningfully included in their communities.

After receiving very positive feedback from individuals and families, OP expanded the service to the Coon Rapids area that same year. It is exceptional in its person-centered approach, with a few key elements to provide this ideal experience:

  1. Each group is limited to a maximum of three participants to better facilitate self-direction, relationship building and community inclusion.
  2. Participants enjoy knowing that they are working day-to-day with the same staff person who also supports them in their annual service plan development.
  3. People served direct the service and daily schedule.

In OP’s Coon Rapids Engage with My Community program, great local relationships were built. The group made regular visits to Feed My Starving Children, Second Harvest Heartland, Farm Friends, Open Arms of Minnesota and other places. It focused on doing good for others, making kindness bags to give away, decorating food bags for the needy, and more.

“Everywhere we go, Engage with My Community groups makes connections with people,” said OP staffers. They are always saying hi, introducing themselves, asking if there is anything that they can do to help, asking how their day was.  The response has been amazing; the door to new opportunities is breathtaking at times.   

But just as the program was really taking off, COVID-19 forced OP to halt all day and community enrichment services from March to July 2020.
Fortunately, by August restrictions were lifting for day programs in Minnesota, and OP was able to relaunch its Engage with My Community programs. It expanded to include nearly 20 individuals served and seven staff.

Despite some volunteering restrictions due to COVID, there is a great need to help those in the community, especially people experiencing food insecurity. OP Engage with My Community groups are helping to meet that need. On average, each group volunteers three to four times per week for about 1.5 hours per session. This means individuals served by OP are giving about 80 hours of their time each week!

The organization looks forward to continuing to expand Engage with My Community in the future.