If anyone understands the history of the Village of Progress, it’s Donna Mattison — she has been there pretty much from the beginning, when it was a day care in a Mount Morris Church.
Now serving adults with developmental disabilities from across Ogle County, Village of Progress will be celebrating its 50th anniversary on Aug. 28 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. There will be tours of the Oregon facility, snacks and a plaque unveiling honoring Bob Glaser and John Herrmann for their leadership.
In that 50 years, VOP has grown into an organization that offers a wide variety of vocational, recreational and social programs. The Village boasts a 28,000-square-foot production facility where nearly 100 people with developmental disabilities work on any given day.
Mattison, who is now program director, said she has “no plans of retiring.”
“I love this place,” she said.
And she is not alone. Brion Brooks, executive director of the Village, said very few non-profits ever reach 15 years. He said what put VOP on the road to longevity was the first parents who saw a need for their children and were motivated to address that need.
“There is no greater motivation for action than a parent sensing a lost opportunity for their children,” he said.
Glaser was hired in April of 1969 to help establish the Village, and on Sept. 6 of that year it officially opened its doors in Mount Morris. It was a day care center and a “sheltered workshop,” where they worked with a local textile manufacturer.
Over the years, the Village has moved to Oregon and grown its manufacturing work as well as its social and recreational programs.
Assistant Director Sherri Egan said their recreational and social programs aimed at people who can’t necessarily work include swimming, cycling, bowling, track and field and basketball, among other activities.
The Village also runs the Village Cleaning Service, which has about 30 clients, both large and small. It also operates the popular Village Bakery in Oregon. Brooks said the idea at the bakery was to have disabled folks work alongside people who are not disabled. He said 75 percent of the workers at the bakery do not have a disability.
“I wanted to give our people a sense of what it’s like to work in the real world,” he said.
Back at the production facility, people do a variety of work. It is a large, open space buzzing with activity and plenty of smiles. Brooks said VOP has bought into the idea that being productive helps give people a, “sense of identity and accomplishment.”
And there is plenty to accomplish there, with work being done for Wahl Clippers in Sterling, MTE Hydraulics in Rockford, Etnyre in Oregon and Ducks Unlimited, among others.
Brooks said some people can work longer stretches than others, but they all are a part of the team.
“There are also people at the Village who are unable to work, or unable to work for more than a few minutes at a time,” he said, adding that those who can’t work much still get a paycheck. “It may not be much – just a few bucks, but they receive a paycheck because there’s that pride in doing something.”
The public is invited to the event on Aug. 28, when they will also officially honor Glaser by naming the training center after him.