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Dominican, Opportunity Knocks Partnership Flourishes

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Dominican University's psychology and nutrition departments have been working this summer on deepening the university's partnership with Opportunity Knocks on its Warrior Star Initiative (WSI), a program providing valuable vocational experiences, social skill development and community engagement for Opportunity Knocks members. The program was launched last fall to help build relationships between Opportunity Knocks' Warriors and Dominican students and staff.

Opportunity Knocks was founded by Dominican alumnus Michael Carmody in 2009 as a non-profit organization serving young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities through social, recreational and life-skills programming. Michael's younger brother, John, has Down syndrome, which sparked Michael's involvement in the special needs community. He pursued a Master's Degree in Special Education at Dominican University and taught in the Special Education Department of Oak Park and River Forest High School.

Carmody was motivated to found Opportunity Knocks because of the lack of programming available for young adults with special needs. Until the age of 22, his brother benefitted from services and support programs funded through and offered by the public school system. Upon turning 22, however, he was no longer eligible for any of these programs, pursuant to Illinois statute.

Opportunity Knocks includes three programs: After Opps, Life Shop, and Health and Wellness. After Opps is an after-school/work program providing Warriors with various social and recreational activities. Life Shop, which is geared specifically towards Warriors over the age of 22, provides participants with adult life skills including cooking and shopping for groceries. Health and Wellness provides Warriors with workout opportunities and lessons about wellness.

The organization also runs three social enterprises: Knockout Pickles, Warrior Catering Co., and the OK Farm. Knockout Pickles is a multi-faceted pickle-making enterprise in which Warriors are responsible for the production, marketing, sales and distribution of their pickles. The OK Farm focuses on growing the pickles used in the Knockout Pickles enterprise. Warrior Catering Co. gives Warriors the opportunity to plan the menu, prepare the food, set up, and provide service throughout and after small to medium events.

Prior to this partnership with Opportunity Knocks, Dominican worked with the Trinity Volunteer Corps, until the organization restructured its program and dismantled its relationship with Dominican. However, the organization referred Opportunity Knocks to Dominican in an effort to give its active volunteers the opportunity to continue their involvement in the Dominican community.

Opportunity Knocks absorbed the Trinity Volunteer Corps-Dominican volunteers (who were not Warriors already) and picked up right where Trinity left off with the Warrior Star Initiative, under the management of Program Director Dan Scherer-Emunds. Warriors are being placed in various jobs on campus, including the dining hall, Cyber Café, archive offices and library. Opportunity Knocks and Dominican are also working to engage Warriors in various on-campus social events.

According to Dan, the program is still evolving and developing new initiatives for Warriors to be more involved on campus. This summer, the Warriors are helping with the university's beekeeping project behind Parmer Hall. Ultimately, the main goal of the WSI, Dan explained, is to build a strong Warrior presence on campus and to network with Dominican students and staff. The partnership provides both Warriors and Stars with valuable vocational and social opportunities which enrich the lives of all parties involved.