“The little things that we can do, aren’t so little. Everybody is touching lives. What you’re doing may not be that big of a deal to you, but it could mean the world to the other person,” said State Senator Ed Charbonneau. And one of the littlest things you can do, that may not be a big deal to you, is to put a smile on someone else’s face.
Opportunity Enterprises (OE) has been creating smiles throughout the community since 1967. Tonight’s Summer Celebration held at Urschel Pavilion was just one of the ways they have achieved this. Clients, employees, supporters, and friends came out tonight to enjoy food, games, and just visit with each other.
In addition, the event was a great way for OE to bring awareness to the Valparaiso community. The relationship between OE and the community of Valparaiso is an important one in order for OE to continue to do the excellent work they’ve been doing for those with special needs. The staff has seen how welcoming Valparaiso has been to OE and their clients, and the Summer Celebration is their way to give back.
“OE exists here and is so successful because of the support that we receive throughout Northwest Indiana. It’s really important to give back to our supporters and say thank you for all they do throughout the year. And to also let them get to know us better and for us to get to know them better,” said Kacie Ensign, Development Director at OE.
The Summer Celebration is also important for the clients. People with special needs can often have difficulty finding events that are accessible to them. Having a welcoming place to go that is easily accessible can mean the world to them and bring smiles to their faces.
“Valpo’s Central Park Plaza is extremely accessible. It’s great for everyone to know they have a place they can go and that they’ll be able to get around and have everything they need. It’s really nice for them to know they can go, cut loose, have a great time, and relax,” said Ensign.
Members from all over the community were there to support OE and honor DeMartinis. Adam and Drew Peuquet of Chester Inc. have been long-time supporters of OE. They enjoy coming out to the events and mingling with the clients and staff.
“We are long-time supporters of OE as a corporation and as a family. We love Ellen and she’s done a great job. We wish her well in her endeavors in the future and look forward to the next chapter with Neil,” Adam said.
“The event is great. It supports the community, it supports OE, which is a big lift for Valpo and people with special needs. They’re amazing people and staff. It’s a great party and celebration,” Drew said.
It was also a bittersweet night as Ellen DeMartinis, who officially retired as CEO on June 30th, was honored for her years of service in spreading smiles. The crowds cheered as DeMartinis received a special piece of artwork, painted by OE clients, as well as the Sagamore of the Wabash honor, presented on behalf of Governor Holcomb by Senator Charbonneau. All of the surprises were extremely emotional for DeMartinis.
“Looking out at the faces I see in this room, my heart’s just full. I so appreciate all of this, but it’s not just me. It’s every person who’s worked at OE in any capacity at all. It’s their heart and spirit and sacrifices that helps to make OE all it is,” said DeMartinis. “And it’s the community. I know a lot of agencies around the state and a lot of CEOs and I can tell you, no one has what we have here in Northwest Indiana. This community loves and embraces the community that we serve, and OE would not be here without you.”
As OE said good-bye to DeMartinis, they said hello to their new CEO, Neil Samahon who was introduced to the community at tonight’s celebration. Having a daughter with special needs, he became aware of OE when he moved to Valparaiso eight years ago. It didn’t take long before he joined the board and his wife began volunteering. When he heard that DeMartinis was retiring, he saw the opportunity to get even more involved.
“I’ve seen the work firsthand. I’ve seen the incredible effect the staff of OE has on the lives of individuals with intellectual disabilities,” said Samahon. “I’m excited to get more involved. I’m just proud to be an employee at OE. It’s a great group of people.”
The work OE does has continued to spread smiles all around the community. No one knows more about the smiles it can bring than those who have personally been touched by the staff at OE. Gene Skinkle, a father of a special needs child, as well as a former Special Olympics basketball coach, has found that his and his daughter’s life has been greatly enhanced because of OE.
“What they’ve taught my daughter is more than we could teach her. I don’t know what we would do without OE,” said Skinkle.
Summer Celebration was made possible by 1st Source Bank, 219 Productions, Aberdeen Manor Catering, Birky Family Farms, BMO Harris Bank, Centier Bank, Chester, Inc., Chunky's Tacos, Coastal Valley Water, Metro Recycling, New Age Telecom Inc., Oak Partners, Qubit Networks, Steel Cities Steels, Inc., The Times Media Company, Urschel Giving, Valpo Parks, Valpo Velvet Ice Cream, and Walgreens.
For more information, or to find out how you can help to spread a smile to someone with special needs, visit the OE website at https://www.oppent.org/.