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Nonprofit offers jobs for people with disabilities

SYCAMORE – Hope Bockman has worked at other places, but nothing really fit like the job she’s held since 1987 at Opportunity House in Sycamore.

Bockman, who was blinded shortly after birth, is one of about 280 disabled people served by the DeKalb County nonprofit.

“There’s things to think about like are you happy with it,” Bockman said. “I like working here because I feel like I’m learning a lot.”

Since it was incorporated in 1963, Opportunity House has grown from a workshop for the disabled to a multifaceted agency boasting nine residential homes, care for people who live on their own, vocational assistance, job placement and other support services.

At the agency’s warehouse in Sycamore, about 75 clients assemble packages for various products, including many that come from DeKalb County manufacturers such as Ideal Industries. Clients’ responsibilities vary from placing items in a package to shrink-wrapping or heat-sealing the packages.

One of Bockman’s favorite tasks is placing 25 small telephone connectors from Ideal Industries into plastic bags. Opportunity House ships about 5,000 of these packs a week. Bockman said yoga lessons she took at her Opportunity House group home help her to concentrate on putting the correct amount in the bag.

The chance to learn and be part of what feels more like a family than a company keeps many more people than Bockman there. Executive Director Robert Shipman has been with the Opportunity House for 21 years, while Operations Manager Don Beckman has 25 years with the agency.

“I love to be around the people and work for them,” Beckman said. “It gives you a sense of fulfillment that you’re doing something you should do.”

For some, Opportunity House is their only source of employment. Clients can work from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and earn a piece-rate pay commensurate with the prevailing wage of other area companies. Some work elsewhere or only want to work part-time.

“I think it would be terrific if everyone could obtain competitive employment, but the fact is they can’t,” Shipman said. “They have a place like this where they can earn a wage and have a life on their own and take pride in working.”

Frank Slowoski, who has worked at Opportunity House for 20 years, said he had bad experiences at other jobs in the community, but feels welcome and happy where he is now. He lives on his own and drives his own car to work daily.

“This job is very important to me,” Slowinski said.

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