Opportunity Connections is a private, non-profit organization that has been serving people in the Columbia Gorge since 1967. We offer help for people with developmental disabilities to live as independently as possible while working and enjoying activities in their own communities. We currently are based in Hood River and The Dalles.

Since 1967 we have helped find community employment for people with a variety of disabilities. We work with employers to make part-time positions available that are beneficial to both the client and the employer.

We offer various programs which help to builds skills to employability. Our residential service offers 24-hour support in a group home or while the person is living independently.
Our The Dalles location in conjunction with The 506 Gallery.
Our Mission:
  • Maximizing potential for people with disabilities.

Our Vision:
  • A community where people with disabilities participate in satisfying lifestless based on the same aspirations as all citizens.
  • To be an organization that is vital, progressive, and well respected in the community.

Our Values:
  • Healthy and safe activities, surroundings, and people,
  • Being a resource to the community and especially to the people with disabilities, their families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers,
  • Individual personal choice, integration, and self-worth,
  • Environmental responsibility,
  • Collborative relationships with partners and communities,
  • Tolerance, respect, honesty, simplicity, and equality,
  • Work opportunities,
  • Well qualified staff to meet changing needs
History of Opportunity Connections

Hood River Sheltered Workshop, Inc (1967): The organization of Opportunity Connections was first incorporated in 1967 as the Hood River Sheltered Workshop, Inc. by directors Roy Webster, George Lamphier, and W.W. Hawkins as a non-profit organization. The goal was to provide employment and training for citizens of the Mid-Columbia area with disabilities. Money was raised by a group of local business people who made donations, held rummage sales and music programs, solicited donations from civic and social clubs, churches, and eventually the United Fund.

In 1968, Judith M. Drescher volunteered for the unpaid position of Executive Director, and the organization began to take off. The workshop opened for business in the Tonn Building at 2940 Thomsen Road in Pine Grove.

Columbia Gorge Rehabilitation Center (1971): Hood River Sheltered Workshop began doing business as Columbia Gorge Rehabilitation Center in 1971 and made a down payment on the Tonn Building. At that time, 11 people from Hood River and The Dalles were employed in the work program. In 1972, CGRC expanded the mission to include needed residential services and, in 1976, bought a house in 1306 Taylor Street in Hood River, where training and support services are still being provided for seven individuals in a residential setting.

Many new services have been added since the inception of Hood River Sheltered Workshop. The supported employment began in 1987. As a result, many people served began working in supported work sites in the community. In 1988, because of the diversity of its services, CGRC changed its name to Columbia Gorge Center. Over the years, the Center has received grants from the Murdock Foundation for various building projects and the inception of a commercial sewing program, from the Union Pacific Railroad and Oregon Public Transit. Hood River United Way and Mid–Columbia United Way have also provided funds for various projects and operating expenses. In 1990, the Center received an establishment grant from the Oregon Vocational Rehabilitation Division for expansion of its janitorial and grounds maintenance crews in Hood River and The Dalles.

Quality Residential Services, Inc. Merger (1991): The Center merged with Quality Residential Services, Inc., another private, nonprofit provider of services, in July of 1991. As a result of the merger and subsequent expansion, our organization currently operates five group homes and a supported living program in Hood River and The Dalles, providing residential and support services to twenty-five individuals.

The Dalles Location (1992): Through an establishment grant from Oregon Vocational Rehabilitation Services, the Center began operation of a comprehensive assessment and training center in The Dalles in March of 1992. A Thrift Store was added in The Dalles in 2004, allow a training facility in retail sales, and in 2006 another Establishment Grant from Oregon Vocational Rehabilitation helped fund the development of a barista training facility, The Second Cup, at The Dalles Thrift Store.

Washington Services (1994): Service delivery was expanded to Klickitat County, Washington, in 1994, through contracts and service agreement with White Salmon, Lyle, and Wishram School Districts, and Klickitat County Department of Human Services. The primary services provided are community inclusion and employment supports including work assessments and training. In 2005 high school transition services were added through contracts with Hood River County, Northern Wasco County, and Lyle School Districts. However, by 2013 these services had been discontinued as the school districts were able to provide these services.

Opportunity Connections (2009): A second location in The Dalles was established at 506 East 2nd Street in the year of 2009, as the number of clients out grew the space available at the Thrift Store. Spring of that same year, the Board of Directors agreed to adopt a new assumed business name, “Opportunity Connections.” The name reflects the desire of the Board to communicate the direction and mission of the organization and not necessarily a specific place. The new name fit the Mission statement adopted in June of 2008, “Maximizing Potential for People with Disabilities.” A new logo was also adopted to better communicate the organization’s presence within the community.

New Model of Service: Over the last couple of years the OC vocational program has taken many steps toward a new model of service, i.e. community integration and employment. Many of these steps progressed over a period of time but were part of a trend toward community integration, not only for OC clients, but for the whole organization. This has been in keeping with the OC mission, vision, and stated values. It has also been in step with the state and national trend for the population of people with disabilities.

New Contract with OVRS (2012): OC has been contracting with OVRS in their new Job Development format since 2012. Over this time OC has provided job development and coaching services to an increasing number of referrals.

Closure of the Thrift Store (2012): Among other reasons for the closure of the Thrift Store in 2012, was the determination that a better service for OC clients was to provide job development and placement at local retail or thrift shops rather than maintain an OC thrift store. Several clients who worked at the store now work elsewhere, some with OC Job Coaching.

Establishment of The Dalles Community Office (2012): The re-establishment of support services to 506 East 2nd in The Dalles took at least a year and resulted in the loss of at least three clients, however in the long run the program has gained more clients than it lost and gained more community access and community employment. The location has proven to be a bonus for easy access for clients attending and for trips into the community.

Project Connect (2011-2012): The development of a program with the central emphasis of community access was developed in 2011. In 2012 OC received a grant from the Oregon Community Foundation to further develop this program with the goal of engaging clients in their community through volunteer work (Meals on Wheels, Adopt A Dog, Home At Last) and self expression through the Art Connect program.

Art Connect (2012): One of the visions for the Art Connect program is to make this program a vital part of the community, show casing our artists, their work, and a vehicle to sell their work through The 506 Gallery.

Establishment of Hood River Heights Community Office (2012): The office at 1202 12th St. in Hood River was ready to move into community classes in the spring of 2013 when the state delayed moving into the community access model, the office was used sparingly until the fall of 2014, the state did make the change into the new model. By October of 2014 the office was in full swing providing Employment Path classes and community access.

Closure of Sheltered Work Shop at Pine Grove (September 2014): The subminimum wage was discontinued in September and while work continued til June of 2015 on a number of assembly contracts as well as document destruction, the majority of clients were offered job development options in the community or day support activities.

The 506 Gallery (2015): The front of the building at 506 East 2nd St. was cleared out to become The 506 Gallery, showcasing art by participants of the Art Connect program. It opened August 17, 2015 and had its official grand opening on December 10, 2015.

Listing of Property at 2940 Thomsen Road (2016): The Board of Directors determined in the October of 2016 to sell the property at 2940 Thomsen Road, as 1) there was not a need for the large venue, since two buildings were now empty, and 2) the location was determined to be “isolated” or at least not in the community and by September of 2018, under the Home and Community Based Services rule, OC would not be paid by the state for any services at this location.

Community Programs: Everyone has benefited as OC continues to build expertise in community programs, the Board, staff, families, but most importantly the clients / participants. There are more choices, greater self expression, and ultimately, new and exciting opportunities. There will be growing pains, but ultimately the organization will be fulfilling its mission to a greater degree.