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Carin Schoppmeyer: Avenues connect community

Executive director takes the plunge by Carin Schoppmeyer | February 13, 2022 at 1:00 a.m.
A crew gets boxes ready for use on Feb. 9 2022 at Open Avenues. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

Jacob Sheatsley joined Open Avenues, a Rogers nonprofit that serves adult clients with disabilities, this past summer as executive director, and last week he got more than just his feet wet in the role. He honored his promise to take a polar plunge Feb. 7 at a birthday bash for the 47-year-old nonprofit organization -- if a fundraising challenge yielded $4,700 in honor of the anniversary. And Open Avenues backers came through. Supporters and clients cheered him on as he took the plunge in a kiddie pool set up for the occasion in the Open Avenues back yard. The bash was presented by Reynolds Consumer Products and Hefty.

According to a news release, Sheatsley joined Open Avenues in June of 2021 with more than 20 years' experience in nonprofit and business leadership. "Overseeing the organization's efforts in providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities, his focus is on growing the number of people, employers and industrial partners they serve," the news release says. "Sheatsley believes Open Avenues is uniquely positioned to provide employers and industrial partners a more consistent workforce through re-visioning the inclusion of adults with disabilities."

Kelly Sampson, development director, tells me: "Through a variety of progressive programs, our participants are able to experience the dignity that comes from working while learning invaluable vocational skills at a pace that's tailored to their individual needs. When covid first hit, we had to temporarily close for about a month. We did a very slow phased-in reopening, only allowing a few people to return each week. Although we're continuing to be extremely cautious, requiring masks and social distancing, we are at a place where we're able to accept new applicants. We can find employment opportunities for adults with disabilities either within our Training & Employment Center or in the community."

While my intent for this column is always to share good news, as it happens this week, there's a bit of bad. Catalytic converters were stolen from three Open Avenues vehicles this past week. Sampson says. "We're so saddened by these recent thefts as they've put a real hardship on us, impacting both our ADA bus transportation as well as our ability to pick up and deliver the work our participants do for our industrial partners. We've applied for a grant from a local funder, asking for assistance with the $4,500-plus costs associated with this loss, including rental vehicles, new converters and installation costs. Donations of any amount are welcomed to help fund our transportation program, which transports our participants between their homes and work." Transportation poses one the biggest challenges for people with disabilities achieving community inclusion, Sampson adds.

Mark your calendars for Aug. 26 and 27 for SOAR NWA presented by Sam's Furniture. Organizers say "the third annual SOAR NWA event will offer something for everyone, including a variety of hot air balloon activities (weather permitting), a kids' zone, beer garden, live music, car exhibit and various aeronautics activities."

For more event photos --

Columnist Carin Schoppmeyer can be reached by email at

  photo  Jaccob Sheatsley, Open Avenues executive director (second from left), gives a thumb-up Feb. 7 after taking a polar plunge at Open Avenues in Rogers in honor of a successful fundraising drive to celebrate the group’s 47th anniversary. With him are Jeff Hairston (from left), Kelly Sampson and Nicole Benedict. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Carin Schoppmeyer)
  photo  Danetta Burks puts labels together on Feb. 9 2022 at Open Avenues. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
  photo  Charles McAnally sports a champion smile Feb. 9 2022 at his work station. McAnally has worked at Open Avenues about 15 years. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
  photo  Susan Farber packs boxes on Feb. 9 2022 at Open Avenues in Rogers. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
  photo  Crews take care of business at various Open Avenues work stations. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
  photo  Kelly Sampson, Open Avenues development director, talks with workers on Feb. 9 2022 in Rogers. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
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