Opportunity Knocks for Young Warriors

Emily Lapinski

October 16, 2013

By definition, a warrior is an individual that shows great courage, vigor and skill. A warrior takes on all the challenges that life presents and perseveres against all odds. It is only fitting that the members of Opportunity Knocks, as well as the volunteers, are dubbed with this title.

Opportunity Knocks (OK) is a nonprofit organization that gives young people with developmental disabilities an opportunity to strengthen their social and life skills through recreation. The organization, started by Mike and Phil Carmody, serves 14-year-olds through 30-year-olds olds in the Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park area.

The programs offered through OK take place at the River Forest Community Center, located at 8020 Madison St. The After Opps program, which is held three times a week from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., is a recreational-based program that has been offered for four years now. This program is divided into seasons, which consists of a four-week session followed by a five-week one. The Life Shop program, which just launched in August, is a day program for ten individuals requiring a yearlong commitment. This program is new to OK, but looking at the positive outcomes of the After Opps program, it should be a success.

Mike and Phil Carmody started this organization in honor of their younger brother, John, who has Down syndrome. In Illinois, individuals 22 years of age and older with developmental disabilities no longer get services from the state.

“We thought to take action and create something for him and his friends,” Mike Carmody said. “We wanted it to be something very open ended and we try to be very fresh with what we do.”

One of the features of the After Opps program is Hobby Day. This day allows the Warriors to experience and try new things to see what sparks their interests. Volunteers and professionals from fields ranging from graphic design to carpentry come in and teach the Warriors their skills. The constant change in hobbies allows things to stay fresh and continuously exciting for the Warriors.

Just sitting in on a session allows you to see the immediate joy this program brings to the Warriors. However, the fact that these dreams have sparked realities also ignites happiness in the duo that started it all.

Phil Carmody says the group feels fortunate to have so many people attend and support what they are doing.

“I’m a more administrative upstairs kind of guy, so my motivation comes from going to the events,” he said. “I like to take a minute to gather the scope of the people who gather to support what we do.” 

Mike Carmody explained that the support the program receives means a lot to him.

“[I like] seeing the good that it brings out in people,” he said. “From the volunteers to the people at the events, the participants, the board and the community as a whole, it really brings out the greatness in each person that sometimes you wouldn’t really see.”

Dominican University served as one of the birthplaces of this organization. Mike attended graduate school at Dominican and spent countless hours at the Cyber Café and Rebecca Crown Library. The very first OK website was built down in the Cyber, and Mike credits the easy access to students as a great for passing out flyers. The organization has a lot of strong ties with the faculty and leadership programs at Dominican.

One faculty member in particular that has been with the organization from the beginning is Terry Brown, adjunct professor of journalism. Brown is a member of the OK board and worked with the Carmody brothers before this dream turned into reality.

“When Mike asked me to be a member of OK’s board, it was a no-brainer,” Brown said. “Although I didn’t know much about special education and I wasn’t a parent of a child with special needs, I thought I might be able to contribute to Mike’s dream in a small way.”

It is easy to define a word such as “warrior”, but the skill lies in being able to show what it means.

Phil Carmody says that each of us should reflect the title of being a warrior onto ourselves, stating that the title isn’t limited to the participant.

“We chose the name to echo the program,” he said. “I feel like warrior really sheds a strong light on who they are and what they deal with, and I feel comfortable with this kind of vernacular because it endears us and allows us to show others, through action, that we really are warriors.”

OK is working with Dominican to develop internship opportunities for education majors as well as other related majors. They are looking for ways to let the Warriors experience the Dominican campus as well as opportunities for Dominican students to come and visit the Warriors.

Even though these ideas have not been officially implemented, there are many other ways that Dominican students can volunteer. The After Opps program is always in need of volunteers from various academic disciplines. Students or faculty interested in volunteering should fill out an application on opportunityknocksnow.org.