The Holidays Traditionally for the OPG Family

As the evenings draw in far too soon, and the temperature drops far too quickly, seasonal customs begin for every facet of the holiday season. While a single tear sheds for the long-abandoned shorts hanging sadly in the closet, the frosted windows and flurries of snow can mean only one thing… the holidays are coming.

Spirits are on high; families reunite, friends get merry, and holiday traditions are in full swing. Whether it’s Christmas or Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or Boxing Day, the holidays are the perfect remedy for the winter blues. No matter which celebration means something to you, our annual traditions are often just as meaningful to us as the holidays themselves.

For OPG self-advocate, Abby Love, Christmas is her favorite holiday. “I like getting presents, listening to Christmas music, and seeing family,” she tells me. For Abby, the holidays are a local affair, with her family coming over to celebrate an Indy Christmas. “We decorate our house and my aunt and uncle come to us every year.”

Abby Love, OPG Self-Advocate

Taking part in a game of holiday word association will undoubtedly garner one result in particular: food. Along with her mom, Abby bakes delicious Christmas cookies each year, providing the energy she needs for one of her favorite holiday traditions: playing Just Dance on the Wii with her sisters and cousins.

As Abby can attest, tasty treats are the backbone to any holiday festivity. For Behavior Support Specialist, Jen Elia, Potato Latkes and Sufganiyot (a traditional Hanukkah doughnut), is the menu of choice. This year, Jen’s holiday traditions will also be incorporated at her daughter’s school holiday program. “She’ll be singing Christmas songs with everybody and I wanted them to include one Hanukkah song, which they were happy to do. I’m excited to see which one they’ve chosen.”

One of her favorite times of year, Jen’s family celebrations are mostly on the first night of Hanukkah, but the traditional family trip to Puerto Rico is the highlight of the season. “This year, because of what’s going on, we’re not able to go. But we’re still going to celebrate all together in Indiana – my mother recently moved here from New York, and my sister and her family as well.”

While the holidays are meaningful for a plethora of individualized reasons, time is something not even Bilbo Baggins is immune to; affecting what we associate the holidays with as the years fall away. Whether you’re waking up at 6am and jumping on your parents’ bed, or being woken up at 6am by energy levels which far exceed your own, the holidays remain special even when the reasons change.

Administrative Assistant, Laura Boggs, is seeing the holidays a little differently this year. “As my brother, sister, and I are getting older, I’m seeing for the first time that we’re not going to be around forever and I want to spend more time with them,” she pauses. “It’d be nice to think that Christmas could bring people back together – permanently, and not just for Christmas.”

Laura remembers a time when she was a teenager in Frankfort, Indiana, walking through the snow at the downtown square. “Business people would decorate their office windows. This one evening, Christmas songs were being played,” she recalls. “I always think of that particular evening when the holidays come around.”

Now a grandmother living with her daughter’s family, holiday traditions are more important than ever for Laura. “It’s waking up Christmas morning and hearing the kids shout “it’s Christmas, it’s Christmas!”,” she joyfully demonstrates. And no matter how many birthdays come and go, some things never change: “I even love to see when I get my daughter something that I know she wants. We all get older, but she’s still my daughter.”

While many cite that the joy of the holidays comes from the love and laughter shared with family, for some, the true meaning behind the holidays is giving. Of course, presents are a common-place during the Yuletide season, but giving comes in a great many number of forms for a great many number of people.


Cyrus Kungu, Direct Support Professional

Cyrus Kungu, a Direct Support Professional, was born and raised in Kenya – moving to the United States back in 2009. During his upbringing in Africa, he spent the holidays celebrating Christmas with his family and community. For Cyrus, it was custom to open presents the day after Christmas (Boxing Day), with the former being reserved for another tradition entirely.

“When I was in Africa, I used to go to Church in the morning, and then after the service I would go into the community to visit the poor and give the little I had to them,” Cyrus explains. “When I celebrate Christmas, I always think about caring for others. When I spend my Christmas helping another person make their life better, I feel good about it.”

Cyrus grew up with very little, but his family always made sure to celebrate Christmas when many people in his poverty-stricken community did not. Since moving to America by himself, he has not only become an exceptional DSP, but continues to send money back to his community each year during the holidays, helping them in any way he can. Thankfully, Cyrus’ selfless nature was rewarded a few years ago when his family was finally able to move to the States to be with him.

Regardless of your background, traditions, or which cultural festival you celebrate, the holidays is a distinctly special time of year. Whether you’re embracing family you haven’t seen in years, eating your weight in ham, or hurriedly wrapping presents before the kids get home from school, the holidays provide memories that we cherish for the rest of our lives.

“I don’t give because I have, but because I know what it’s like not to have anything.” 
– Cyrus Kungu

Happy Holidays! ​

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What Thanksgiving Means to Us

Whether it’s Halloween or Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah, fall through winter houses a number of celebrated holidays that frequently fight for the limelight when deciding upon a personal favorite. Spooky vs. Santa, turkey vs. ham – no matter your preference, the Holidays mean so much to so many.

While the inception of each holiday began with a specific purpose, over time, individuals from across the United States have gleaned their own personal meaning behind each occasion. This is what makes Thanksgiving a special celebration: the nature of being thankful is uniquely personal for everyone around the dinner table, and can take on a profound new meaning each and every year.

​OPG self-advocate, Andrew Lyons, tells me how he always looks forward to Thanksgiving. “I like being with friends, and the laughter with family.” Thanksgiving usually consists of a more modest gathering for Andrew, but he recalls a memory from many years ago that he thinks back on fondly at this time of year. “We went to my great aunt and uncle’s house. I remember seeing everyone and smiling.”

As Andrew’s mind casts itself over all the “flavorful food” he enjoys at Thanksgiving, he tells me that there are three things he’s truly thankful for this year: “good health, fun with friends, and making memories.” This sentiment was echoed by fellow OPG self-advocate, Jessica Steuterman, who told me that what means the most to her at Thanksgiving is her mom and dad… and the food.

​For many, Thanksgiving brings with it a number of family traditions. “I like to decorate pumpkins,” Jessica says with a smile. For others, like Andrew, it’s different every year. However, it becomes clear when talking about holiday traditions that the traditions themselves embody the true meaning behind the occasion; when asked about her favorite part of Thanksgiving, Jessica takes a brief pause and says, “I like to give out hugs every year.”

​Traditions come in many forms. For Quality Enhancement Specialist, Sherry Vickrey, it involves all of her family gathering on the floor and spreading the newspaper out to look at the ads, along with pre-Christmas festivities. “Before we eat we have to write five things we want for Christmas in the Christmas book. We’re not allowed to eat until we do,” she laughs. “It also means I get to put up my Christmas tree the next day.”

Of course, when the last drop of sentiment has been drunk, there’s the copious amount of delicious food. “Every year I have to make green bean casserole, if I don’t I’m not allowed to come to Thanksgiving,” Sherry tells me – with Jessica attesting to the green bean deliciousness being a personal favorite of hers also. “It’s the one time of year my whole family get together. We spend the whole day cooking, eating and laughing.”

For Andy Griffin, another OPG self-advocate, Thanksgiving is all about games. “I watch football with my family. We play card games too.” For Andy, he’s especially thankful for the self-sufficiency OPG has helped him achieve. “I am more independent. And I’m looking for a new job – I have a new job coach,” he expresses enthusiastically.

As businesses shutdown, cars line the roads, and family members embrace each other with open-arms, the importance of Thanksgiving becomes abundantly clear. Sherry tells me how this is her first Thanksgiving with her new husband, and reflects on what the holiday means to her most of all. “Since my dad passed away two years ago and my mom got cancer, I’m just especially thankful that she’s here for Thanksgiving.”

While the story of the original Thanksgiving is frequently misconstrued, the core message remains a constant. The first Thanksgiving was indeed very different from the modern-day celebration. But as families and friends gather to eat food, laugh, and give thanks, we discover a common ground with the Pilgrims of 1621: we all have something or someone in life to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Dan Kahl: An ESOP Interview

For 15 years, Dan Kahl has been serving Opportunities for Positive Growth, Inc. as its Chief Operating Officer. Alongside his wife and CEO, Gail Kahl, the duo has paved the way for how companies treat individuals with intellectual disabilities across the state of Indiana and beyond.

In 2010, Dan and Gail handed OPG over to their employees by turning the company into an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan). Since that time, qualified participants have been accruing stock due to their personal stake in the company. Further details of which can be found here.

I sat down with Dan to discuss his thought process behind turning OPG into an ESOP, the changes he’s witnessed over the years, and where he hopes the company goes in the future.

When and why did you join OPG?

My first day was in October 2002. I was looking for a new job and Gail talked me into joining the company. At the time, I really disliked my job. I looked at OPG as a cool way to own my own business and be an entrepreneur, and so I started doing both jobs. I’d come home at 5.30pm and work until midnight on the other job. Finally, a few months later, I gave my 2 weeks’ notice, scared to death, and joined OPG. It was a rough 6 months. 

Why did you choose to make OPG an ESOP?

Dan Kahl, Chief Operating Officer

Originally our board of directors only consisted of Gail and I, our two sons, and our attorney – who in 2006, started pushing us towards our succession plan. It came down to three options: we could sell it to somebody in the company, we could list it and sell it to the highest bidder, or we could go to an ESOP. It was very costly and policy heavy, but we looked at everything and that’s the route we decided to go.

We kept it secret from March 2010 until October 2010. It was a great opportunity for our employees, who we feel a lot of loyalty to; Gail and I built the company into what it is, but really, it’s our employees that do the job day-in day-out, so we thought it was a good fit.

Did you have any reservations about turning the company into an ESOP?

Oh yeah: the audits, the high cost. Obviously, it was money well spent, but it was at a time when the Department of Labor was very anti-ESOP. All ESOPs after the first year get a DoL audit, and ours went on for 44 months. After all that, I might have told you I don’t know if I would have done it again – it was brutal, the most difficult thing I’ve ever gone through in my business career. We weren’t being treated fairly. 

Since turning OPG into an ESOP, have you seen any significant change within the company and the people? 

I think it’s turned more positive. We have 133 plan participants in the ESOP, and those 133 people hold well over $1 million worth of stock. I think it encourages everybody to go out and do their job the best they can day-in and day-out – and if that’s what we do, we’ll be successful. 

The other thing that’s really important: our valuation has increased dramatically since 2010. It’s gone up by more than 200%. I think that the employees who receive their statements every year have come to realize that the money is real – they’ve got a really good appreciation of it. All you’re doing is getting a retirement income just for showing up to work. It doesn’t cost you anything. What a great deal.

What would you say are the key benefits for being an ESOP?

I think it creates a culture of creativity, of fiscal responsibility, pride, goal achievement, and of family. You really can’t buy that… you have to create it. It’s gratifying and absolutely worthwhile. 

What is the single most significant selling point of working for an ESOP company?

You’ll have a nice pile of retirement money that you can keep building on, but you have to be in it for the long run. That’s another reason why Gail and I decided to go the ESOP route; Gail’s first employee is still with her after 19 years. We recently conducted a study and found that the turnover rate for ESOP participants over a 5-year period is just 3%. It’s amazing. 

I’ve been shocked at the number of young people who really don’t take savings for granted. We have had young people leave the company who have decided to roll their investment into another qualifying plan, which tells me that they understand you have to start saving early for retirement. It’s very important. And it’s tax free!

As your retirement approaches, how does your succession plan tie into ESOP?

We decided to do 100% transfer of the ownership to ESOP – a lot of companies start out at 20%. When we leave we want the company to be in good fiscal shape, have leaders in place that will run OPG like Gail and I have, and I want to look at the ESOP as being healthy and solvent. 

One of the things that we’ve done is that if there’s something we don’t know, I can pick the phone up and call our trustee, I can call our valuation firm, I can call our legal office, and have an answer the same day. We’re very lucky to have incredible partnerships with the professionals that provide us services.

Where do you hope ESOP takes OPG in the future?

We’re still in our infancy as an ESOP and to say that we’ve got 133 people holding over a million dollars’ worth of stock is unbelievable. And if the company keeps performing as it has been there’s no reason why it couldn’t increase five-fold, ten-fold, who knows. So that’s pretty exciting.  

We have a lot of people in that 30 to 40-year-old range, so I’d like to come back in 20 years and watch those guys on their last day of work, signing off on their paperwork to get their stock and see how much they’ve got in their account. It’ll be incredible.

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The Importance of OPG’s Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP)

2017 ESOP Award Winning Poster

Since 2010, OPG has prided itself on its ESOP culture and how for the previous seven years it has been a part of every member of staff who passes through the doors to the company.  ESOP has not only transformed OPG as a business – with stock value consistently rising above each previous year – but the way in which staff are now no longer simply employees… they’re owners.

An unknown entity until 1974, ESOPs are now a considerable factor in the way more than 6,700 companies across the United States operate. With more than 14 million plan participants (roughly 130 of which at OPG), businesses across America are utilizing ESOP as a compelling employee benefits plan, looking after their workforce long into retirement and beyond.

Simply put, an ESOP company is partially owned by each member of staff who is 21 years of age, works at least 1,000 hours a year, and works at the company long enough to become vested. The more years you work, the higher your vesting level rises. And as the company’s stock valuation grows, so too does your wallet.

Craig White, OPG’s Chair of the Benefits Committee within ESOP, drives the processes we undertake as an ESOP, and has seen significant change in the company since the inception of the plan. “Culturally what’s happened is what was intended. We’re not just employees; we are the company. There’s a shift in thinking and behavior once you decide what being an owner means to you,” he explains.

Craig has worked at OPG for 16 years, being brought onto the leadership team by Gail Kahl (CEO) and Dan Kahl (CFO) seven years ago upon ESOP’s introduction. In that time, he has seen OPG go from strength to strength, with its share value rising from $8 to $29 a share. “The more plan participants we have, the better our company gets,” he says. “It’s really a game changer.”

Though the rules regulating ESOP and its distribution depend on a number of factors – most significantly being the level of an individual’s vesting – the underlying benefit is clear: “It’s free money. It’s your money.” Whether rolling it into a qualifying 401K, or taking a lump sum payment upon retirement (or before), an ESOP’s primary purpose is to help you live a better tomorrow.

While seeing OPG’s total stock value resting at $1.1 million is undeniably impressive, ESOP is more than just investing numbers – it’s investing in people. “We not only physically own the company, but there’s also an emotional piece when people realize they’re in it to win it. There’s a sense that I become the company – I am what OPG embodies,” Craig states.

Becoming a plan participant at OPG isn’t just about a pay check; it actively encourages both engagement and loyalty for a common cause amongst each fellow employee. Every role, every action, every minute that’s effectively utilized affects the bottom line – and your back pocket as a result. Due to ESOP, while working at OPG you’re not just building a future for yourself, but everyone else around you.

This sentiment goes hand-in-hand with the vision for OPG as a company. Michelle Steltz, Indiana Chapter President of ESOP, and OPG Benefits Committee member, understands the importance ESOP plays in the lifespan of the business, and individuals we support: “Because of ESOP, OPG could exist into eternity. Our continuity of supports is what drives our values, and fits into the spirit of what OPG is.”

ESOP is constantly evolving. National and regional conferences which take place each year, highlight ways in which companies, including OPG, can improve their service based on lessons learnt from both the good and the bad of fellow ESOP businesses. Networking develops key relationships and helps OPG’s Benefits Committee understand what it can do to better the lives of each plan participant.

Ultimately, OPG’s mission revolves around putting people first, and ESOP is a key element of that. As Craig says: “When Dan and Gail retire, people in the future won’t have a direct connection to them, but what they will have is gratitude because of what they did for the company and its employees with ESOP. Their history will live on through the ESOP and the people.”

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DSPIN Award Winner: Brian Shively

I had the pleasure of catching up with Brian Shively, one of our Quality Enhancement Specialists, last week. He was on the heel of what he describes as a career high. On September 13, 2017, Brian was one of five recipients of the DSPIN Outstanding Direct Support Professional Award. He, with the other 4 winners, was recognized in front of over 220 attendees at the DSPIN Annual Conference. I asked him a few questions about the award and his time at OPG. Here’s what he had to say.

So tell me, how does it feel to win the DSPIN Award? Were you shocked?

Brian: It was a surprise. I didn’t expect to hear my name at all. When Gail (CEO) told us in a meeting, I had to hold back from crying. I felt excited to receive it, but thought there were others even more deserving. It’s not just me, it’s a whole team of people. I have learned from other DSPs.

With this question alone, I can already see why Brian has been chosen as a recipient of this award. He is selfless and a team player. 

What’s your favorite part about the job? Does it even feel like a job to you?

Brian: When I’m in pod, it doesn’t feel like a job. I get to see the people in pod becoming friends and I don’t really have to be involved. One of my proudest moments are the times
I realize somehow, my presence has helped others create true friendships and reciprocal relationships, and I am honored to witness it.

You said there have been ups and downs during your 5 years at OPG. What’s brought you to your breaking point as a DSP? How did you overcome that?

Brian: There have been plenty of times when pods were chaotic, causing anxiety for all. The staffing shortage is hard because there are people who need so much more support than we can give them. Whenever pod causes more anxiety, on and off, it s been hard…but it’s worth it when people are happy to be there.

Listening to Brian talk, I can hear the passion in his voice. He has gotten to know his pods so well. It’s clear he is dedicated to them.

In your opinion, what legacy are you creating at OPG?

Brian: I feel like I’m just a part of the team. I’m just doing what we all do. I think I do a good job of making the people I support feel heard. They matter and are important to me. Becoming a QES and getting the DSPIN is the highlight of my work life thus far.

What’s next for you?

Someday, I want to be a marriage and family counselor. My entire life, I’ve been really good at listening and making sure people feel heard. I focus all my attention on the person talking, so I think that would work well in counseling.

Brian studied Counseling for his Undergraduate degree. He is interested in pursuing his Graduate degree.

As we concluded our interview, Brian wanted to make it clear that he accomplishes nothing alone. In his opinion, he plays a part of a team.

We couldn’t be prouder of Brian. Congratulations on your award!

(Brian Shively pictured here with the other 2017 recipients)

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