Hood River Sheltered Workshop, Inc: Opportunity Connections is incorporated as the "Hood River Sheltered Workshop, Incorporated" by directors Roy Webster, George Lamphier, and W.W. Hawkins as a non-profit organization. Their goal is to provide employment and training for citizens of the Mid-Columbia area with disabilities. Money is raised by a group of local business people who make donations, hold rummage sales, music programs, and solicit donations from civic and social clubs, churches, and eventually the United Fund.
Judith M. Drescher volunteers for the unpaid position of Executive Director, and the organization begins to take off. The workshop opens for business in the Tonn Building at 2940 Thomsen Road in Pine Grove.
Columbia Gorge Rehabilitation Center: Hood River Sheltered Workshop begins doing business as 'Columbia Gorge Rehabilitation Center.' A down payment is made on the Tonn Building. Eleven people from Hood River and The Dalles are employed in the work program. A year later, CGRC expands the mission to include needed residential services and, in 1976, buys a house on 1306 Taylor Street in Hood River, where training and support services are still being provided for seven individuals in a residential setting.
Columbia Gorge Center: Supported employment begins. Many people served begin working in supported work sites in the community. A year later, CGRC changes its name to 'Columbia Gorge Center.' Over the years, the Center receives 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 also provides funds for various projects and operating expenses. In 1990, the Center receives 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: The Columbia Gorge Center merges 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: Through an establishment grant from Oregon Vocational Rehabilitation Services, the Center begins operation of a comprehensive assessment and training center in The Dalles in March of 1992. A thrift store is added in The Dalles in 2004, allow a training facility in retail sales, and in 2006 another Establishment Grant from Oregon Vocational Rehabilitation helps fund the development of a barista training facility, The Second Cup, at The Dalles Thrift Store.
Washington Services: Service delivery is expanded to Klickitat County, Washington, through contracts and service agreements with White Salmon, Lyle, and Wishram School Districts, and the 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 are added through contracts with Hood River County, Northern Wasco County, and Lyle School Districts. However, by 2013 these services are discontinued as the school districts are able to provide these services.
Opportunity Connections: A second location in The Dalles is established at 506 East 2nd Street, as the number of clients outgrow the space available at the thrift store. Spring of that same year, the Board of Directors agrees 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 fits the mission statement adopted in June of 2008, “Maximizing Potential for People with Disabilities.” A new logo is 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 takes many steps toward a new model of service, such as community integration and employment. Many of these steps progress over a period of time but are part of a trend toward community integration, not only for OC clients, but for the whole organization. This is in keeping with the OC mission, vision, and stated values. It is also in step with the state and national trend for the population of people with disabilities.
Project Connect: The development of a program with the central emphasis of community access is developed in 2011. In 2012 OC receives 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.
New Contract with OVRS: OC contracts with OVRS in their new job development format. Over this time OC provides job development and coaching services to an increasing number of referrals.
Closure of the Thrift Store: It is decided that a better service for OC clients is to provide job development and placement at local retail or thrift stores 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: The re-establishment of support services to 506 East 2nd in The Dalles takes at least a year and results in the loss of at least three clients. However, in the long run, the program gains more clients than it lost and gains more community access and community employment. The location is proven to be a bonus for easy access for clients attending and for trips into the community.
Art Connect: One of the visions for the Art Connect program is to make this program a vital part of the community, showcasing our artists, their work, and a vehicle to sell their work through The 506 Gallery.
Establishment of Hood River Heights Community Office: The office at 1202 12th St. in Hood River is ready to move into community classes in the spring of 2013 when the state delays moving into the community access model. The office is used sparingly until the fall of 2014, when 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: The subminimum wage is discontinued in September and while work continues until June of 2015 on a number of assembly contracts, as well as document destruction, the majority of clients are offered job development options in the community or day support activities.
The 506 Gallery: The front of the building at 506 East 2nd Street is cleared out to become The 506 Gallery, showcasing art by participants of the Art Connect program. It opens August 17, 2015 and has its official grand opening on December 10, 2015.
Listing of Property at 2940 Thomsen Road: The Board of Directors determines in the October of 2016 to sell the property at 2940 Thomsen Road, as 1) there is not a need for the large venue, since two buildings were now empty, and 2) the location is determined to be too isolated/not in the community and by September of 2018, under the Home and Community Based Services rule, OC will 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.