Introduction by Yzmira Andujo
He graduated high school, attended college, freelanced as a photographer and as a DJ. Orlando participated in the Special Olympics, volunteered with his church and was well known in his community. At the age of 44, he began to experience declining health. This created a new set of challenges.
Still, his desire and need to remain active and feel valued remained.
As his guardians, my mother and I were introduced to the Opportunity Tree, and soon after Orlando began attending its day program. He was able to keep a routine schedule and participate in various activities, all while ensuring his unique needs were met.
His needs were higher one day and maybe less the next. Whatever they were, the staff was able to accommodate and make him feel comfortable and safe. He made new friends, new connections and happy memories.
As his needs increased he was fortunate enough to have one-on-one care, and his caregiver was simply amazing. She had lunch with him every day, helped him feed himself and assisted him with all his other daily activities. As his family, we will forever be grateful for the compassion and patience he was shown.
Every Friday, Orlando received a $5 bill (provided by his family). This $5 was his paycheck. The amount didn’t matter, it represented that he was active and he felt valued, which was a core need. The two years my brother attended the Opportunity Tree made a significant difference in his quality of life during his final years.
I am so grateful for the service they offer, and to have them in our community is invaluable.
A brief history of the organization
The Opportunity Tree began in Phoenix in 1955 as the Perry Institute for Child Study, one of Arizona’s first community-based schools for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities who up until then had lived and learned primarily in institutions.
In 1963, the Perry Institute became the Perry Center and home to the Arizona Foundation for the Handicapped, which is known today as just one branch of The Opportunity Tree.
The agency began by providing day programs for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities at the Perry Center.
Additionally, the agency opened some of Arizona’s first community-integrated homes for teens and adults with disabilities who, per new federal legislation of the era, would no longer be subjected to institutionalized living environments.
In 1970, the agency expanded to downtown Casa Grande to provide programs to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Pinal County. The Opportunity Tree’s early years in Casa Grande pioneered our agencywide Employment Services programs as our members earned paychecks by building federally contracted office furniture that was shipped across the country.
The Casa Grande campus grew to also include day programs for adults, and later five community-living homes were opened in the city.
Today, our programs and services in Casa Grande also include youth programs and collectively support over 60 members, impacting more people in the community today than ever before. In 2017 The Opportunity Tree opened its doors in the City of Maricopa, providing adult day programs and youth afterschool programs to 30 members and counting.
Over the years, The Opportunity Tree has progressed to offer agencywide competitive, integrated supported employment services, youth afterschool and summer programs, more community-based living options, supported aging programs, Special Olympics sports, in-home supports and more.
As we continue to evolve, we are always working to expand our impact and provide more services to more people through outreach, connecting with schools, educating families, partnering with other agencies, raising awareness and being active participants in our various communities.
The Opportunity Tree now supports more than 250 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities ages 14 and older across four campuses and 20 community-integrated living homes in Casa Grande, Maricopa, Phoenix and Avondale.
We have evolved to become a truly intergenerational agency, and the history of disability rights in Arizona is embodied in the living history of many of our members. Many of our Golden Age members, whom we see every day, came to The Opportunity Tree during, and soon after, our founding in 1963.
Some members are in their teenage years and come off the school bus for afterschool and summer camp programs, while others are in their early-to-mid adulthood years pursuing employment opportunities and integrating into the community on their own terms.
Our members span all age groups, and each of our campuses and homes are community-integrated environments where people with disabilities from many eras, backgrounds, walks of life and traditions come together to empower, advocate and evolve.
In 2023, we celebrated our 60th year of community impact in providing quality individualized supports to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in dynamic and innovative environments. Moving into 2024 and beyond, we are working even harder to promote the development of a society that fully embraces individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities through inclusion, advocacy and opportunities.
Societal change from institutionalized care to supported independence
Our founding year coincided with the larger societal movement of deinstitutionalization in the 1960s and 1970s. Up until then, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities lived primarily in various institutions, often with poorly regulated, unsanitary, unsafe and frankly inhumane living conditions.
Federal legislation passed during those decades paved the way for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to no longer be condemned to live in restrictive environments, institutions or other controlled settings. The right of every person to live freely in their own community was finally made a reality.
In response to these events, human services agencies opened community-integrated homes (colloquially known as group homes) to support social integration and independent living options. This model continues through the present day as community-living homes offer people their inherent right to live in the least restrictive environments, exercise independence and actualize self-potential.
Agencies like The Opportunity Tree provide staffing, support and property management to these residential settings to assist residents with daily living skills, safety and security, community integration opportunities, transportation to employment sites, appointments, community events and more.
These community-living environments are more important now than ever.
By living independently with support as needed, people can define their own quality of life on their own terms while being recognized and respected as equal stewards of the community. Individuals have the freedom and opportunity to contribute their skills, perspective and abilities to society. A robust and supportive home life also opens the door for people to seek out and obtain competitive, integrated employment, which in turn incorporates people with disabilities into the economic fabric of the community, state and country.
This increases independence and self-sustenance while also including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities into the social contract by paying taxes, expanding the work force and adding value to the economy. The presence of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities living full lives in the community also promotes diversity, different perspectives, cultural enrichment and inclusion in society at large.
While all these benefits have improved the lives of people with disabilities over the last 60 years, they also have made the world a better place for us all.
Since our founding in 1963, The Opportunity Tree has been humbled and honored to be a pioneer of community living options and dynamic and innovative program supports in Arizona while consistently being on the forefront of promoting the development of a society that fully embraces individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities through inclusion, advocacy and opportunities.
Services offered in Casa Grande and Maricopa
Programs and services prioritize community integration, self-advocacy, self-empowerment, self-actualization, the development of independent living skills, dynamic and innovative programming, inclusion and diversity, new opportunities, health and wellness and quality of life.
We promote empowerment of and advocacy for people with disabilities as active members of the community while working alongside our members toward the evolution of a fully inclusive society.
Our programs and services include:
- Tree Fort — Youth afterschool and summer programs for students with disabilities ages 14 and older still in school.
- S.E.E.D.S. Employment Services — Supported, competitive integrated employment opportunities for adults with intellectual disabilities.
- LEAF adult day programs — Community integrated, quality-of-life programming for adults including independent living skill development, extensive community experiences, career exploration, volunteerism opportunities, adaptive recreation, life enrichment activities and more.
- Community living — Residential services including five community-integrated group homes for adults with intellectual disabilities in the City of Casa Grande and in-home supports (respite, habilitation and attendant care) for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities living in their own homes.
- Supported aging — A first-of-its-kind program in partnership with Hospice of the Valley for seniors with intellectual disabilities who are also beginning to experience dementia and age-related cognitive decline. Activities and experiences are designed to help our older members gracefully age in place while still participating in community integration activities.
- Special Olympics sports — The Opportunity Tree Fireslammers compete in eight Special Olympics sports per year and count over 75 athletes agencywide!
How to contact us
We are always working to expand programs and services to more people and welcome any and all to learn more about who we are and what we do! Connect with The Opportunity Tree by:
- Visiting us at www.theopportunitytree.org
- Sending us an email at email@example.com
- Calling us at 602.956.0400
- Following us on Instagram (the_opportunitytree) and Facebook (TheOpportunityTree)
- Stopping by our Casa Grande campus at 209 W. 1st St. and/or our Maricopa campus at 19756 N. Maricopa Rd., Ste. 108.