By Hollie O., Content & Marketing Specialist
When I walked through the doors of Open Avenues for the first time, I must admit that I was unprepared. My mission in being there was a seemingly simple one: Purkeys had donated a CAPS portable jumpstart machine to a local non-profit, our CEO had spoken with them about how pleased they were with it, and it was my job to gather a few additional details. In, out, done; that simple.
What I hadn’t prepared myself for was the incredible mission of Open Avenues. My simple plan crumbled as Jeff Hairston, the Training Center Manager, gave my coworker and me the VIP tour. What followed was a deeply satisfying experience that renewed my faith in humanity. We spent a delightful hour and a half touring the Open Avenues facility and seeing in action their great mission “to open avenues of opportunity for people with disabilities by facilitating personal growth and attainment of vocational goals.”
For those of you who, like me, had no prior knowledge of what or who Open Avenues is, they provide work for individuals with disabilities (referred to as clients). However, in addition to providing work, they also provide an activity center, social coaching, a community employment program, transportation to and from Open Avenues, and so much more. When you meet with the associates of Open Avenues, you can see how much they really care about their clients’ success. “We just want to make a difference,” is a phrase we heard repeated over and over throughout our tour. It’s deeply important to each associate that their clients grow, learn to contribute the best they can, and take pride in what they accomplish.
A Day in the Shoes of an Open Avenues Client
The day for an Open Avenues client begins in the same way it does for many working adults—by waiting for the bus. Open Avenues runs 5 bus routes to pick up their clients from the surrounding areas so that they don’t have to rely on family members to get to work. The busses arrive at Open Avenues around 8:30 am, which gives each client some time to settle in and socialize a bit before work starts at 9.
The maintenance of these busses is, of course, where Purkeys comes in. Every time one of the busses had a dead battery problem, Open Avenues had to call it in and have the bus taken to a shop and repaired. This cost time, money, and anxiety on behalf of the clients assigned to that bus route. With the help of the CAPS portable jumpstart machine , they were able to minimize the battery-related down time of their busses.
Work for Open Avenue clients goes from 9 am to 3 pm, with a 45-minute lunch period. Breaks can be spent in the expansive break room, outside on the walking path or horseshoe pits, or in the gymnasium playing games. The universally favorite game is an all-ball-in (basketball, volleyball, you-name-it ball) free for all.
For those with a lower functionality, the morning is spent in the Life Skills Room, learning basic life skills. In the afternoon, basic, skill-level-appropriate work is brought in for them to work on.
For those will a higher functionality, work is outsourced by various companies in the area for such processes as packaging, collating, assembly, disassembly, labeling, mailing operations, reclamation, and more. (If your company needs any of these services, Open Avenues would love to connect with you.) Each client is given a job, resources (such as jigs), and work station appropriate to their skill level and needs.
One of the Open Avenues goals is for their clients to feel prepared to go out into the community workforce. To this end, those who have this desire can participate in the Community Employment Program, where Open Avenues offers job placement, supported employment and employment-1st career pathways, and acts as an employment network for the Social Security Ticket-to-Work program. Through this program, clients receive a career plan and support individually tailored to their needs.
Not all clients want to move into the community workforce, however. And that is okay too! When asked, Jeff said that one of their clients had been working with them for 30 years.
“Open Avenues is the social and economic world for our clients. It’s a safe space where they can learn, grow, and see their own potential,” Jeff concluded. “Sometimes it tries you, but it’s so fun. Working with them is one of those jobs where you get to really make a difference.”
Supporting Open Avenues
Every year, Open Avenues hosts events to help raise awareness and money. This year, they will be hosting four events, the largest of which is titled SOAR NWA and will take place on August 24 in Fayetteville, AR. The event will include various hot air balloon activities, a kid’s play area, live music, various aeronautics activities, and more. For more information, visit their Facebook page .
In addition to hosting events, they also accept donations and are always eager to partner with companies to supply work for their clients.
For more information about Open Avenues, visit their website .