Even though that day’s golf outing had been cut short by a brief thunderstorm, supporters of Opportunity Knocks still flocked to the fundraising block party and barbeque behind Fat Duck restaurant the evening of June 21.
The village blocked off Elgin Avenue just south of Madison Street. Amid beer, barbeque and live music, Opportunity Knocks members along with their friends and families exchanged fist bumps and half hugs.
“We made the best of [the rain],” said Executive Director Phil Carmody.
Opportunity Knocks is a community organization developed to offer individuals with developmental disabilities a place to go after they graduate from school-run special education programs.
The party featured a dunk tank, raffle and performances by bands Breezy and the Coolers and Hello Nuvo. Food was provided by Skrine Chops, Piggyback Barbeque and Big Guys Sausage Stand, Carmody said. Sugared Sweets by Nikki and Gina’s Italian Ice provided deserts, while Fat Duck contributed craft beers, wine and other pours.
“I know that everyone there had a good time and that is always one of goals with these things,” Carmody said. “We’re just going to continue to grow this one.”
Opportunity Knocks started three years ago when brothers Phil and Mike Carmody decided to create a place where young adults with developmental disabilities could go to have fun and continue learning after they turn 22 and graduate from high school programs. The brothers’ decision to pursue such an organization was prompted by their observation that their younger brother, John, who has Downs Syndrome, was running out of options as he approached graduation, according to Phil Carmody.
The organization currently operates an after school social recreation program, called After Opps, out of the River Forest Community Center for individuals with developmental disabilities who are between 15 and 30 years old and live in Oak Park, River Forest or Forest Park.
Phil Carmody said Opportunity Knocks plans to add to the existing program with a pilot, day program set to begin Aug. 12. The day program will start with 10 individuals and focus strictly on those participants, or as the organization likes to call them “warriors,” who are over 22.
The expansion requires additional funding, which Opportunity Knocks looks to secure through five fundraisers throughout the year. Carmody said the fundraisers, including the block party, account for between 75 and 80 percent of the organization’s funding structure, almost all of which relies on private funding.
“[Fundraisers] are critical to our existence and our ability to put out a good program,” Carmody said. “We get through [a lack of outside funding] with our strong support system and these events we pour our hearts into.”
Several parents of Opportunity Knocks participants who were in attendance at the block party said they attended the fundraiser because they, like Carmody, recognize the need to continue giving to a program that helps their children and that their children “love.”
“It’s hard for our kids to find enough to do,” said Linda Wax, the mother of one of the organization’s participants. “Opportunity Knocks respects the kids and allows them to be self-advocates to the extent possible.”