The Genesis of Green Valley Enterprises
Fifty years ago a group of people were inspired to develop a future for families and individuals with special needs in our community. They put into action a plan that created Green Valley Enterprises, Inc., a non-profit agency that serves over 600 disabled people and their families each year.
Who were these founders and what drove their desire to develop such an organization? It began in 1966 with a group of like-minded people from Dodge County including educators, parents, civic leaders, and organizations, all who believed people with special needs deserved a purposeful life. Originally known as the Dodge County Sheltered Workshop, it would be a work-place, or “sheltered workshop” that would transition people for placement in private industry as soon as their skills reached a competent level. In addition to vocational training, they also provided counseling on how to live independently.
In January of 1967, small group discussions in a countywide “inquiry meeting” brought together those interested in the project. Rev. Richard Olson from Beaver Dam served as the acting chairman. A key decision from these meetings was that a board of directors should be appointed to provide leadership and guidance. Four individuals were named to select the board of directors, Mrs. Dan Carter, Glenn Mittelstadt, Arthur Cothran, and Rev. Richard Olson.
In 1968, an agreement was developed and approved by the Wisconsin Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. They would provide vocational rehab services and funding for approved clients. The state of Wisconsin certified Articles of Incorporation for Dodge County Sheltered Work-shop Inc. on February 12, 1968. The first budget was set with guidance provided by the Fond du Lac district supervisor of vocational rehabilitation services. With some of the funding secured, the goal of making this special place a reality was coming to fruition. The work-shop opened on Rowell Street in Beaver Dam in September 1968.
In 1966, John Kotek was the special education teacher at the high school. He was instrumental in starting the sheltered workshop. Kotek grew concerned for his student’s lives after they graduated from high school. He reflects on how it all came together, “Parents played a key role in developing the workshop with their valuable individual experience. This helped tremendously to develop programs that fit each client’s specific needs. At this time, there were three main state institutions serving a large segment of this population so a sheltered workshop was a new and attractive idea in Dodge County.
There were many challenges to starting a sheltered workshop, namely, finding the resources necessary to make a workshop feasible. We would need good leadership, a facility, equipment, staff, and money. We hired several staff strictly through donations from various organizations. It was very rewarding to witness the willing-ness of many individuals who wanted to make a sheltered workshop a reality…even though they had little back-ground or experience in making something like this happen”, said Kotek. The community’s involvement was paramount as many civic organizations joined the effort to raise funds in its formative stage.
John Kotek, a Board member for 42 years says it best, “The organization’s leadership, parent input, and community involvement were key to providing quality services to individuals with special needs. It was true 50 years ago, and it is just as true today.”
50 Years of History
In 1968, Larry Tooke was hired by the Board of Directors to serve as the first Executive Director. Tooke negotiated an agreement with several businesses to contract with the workshop. They focused on special types of assembly that could be performed safely and with a high degree of quality. One hurdle to overcome was how to get the participants to and from the workshop. This challenge was met through collaboration by parents, public transportation, and workshop vehicles.
The Dodge County Sheltered Workshop experienced significant growth between 1968 and 1970 under Tooke’s direction. They outgrew their workshop and built a new 12,600 square foot facility at 1000 Green Valley Road in 1970. It served as the workshop for participants to work in as well as a counseling facility.
Through the years, numerous organizations and churches raised funds for the workshop. One such organization was the Beaver Dam Jaycees who in 1972 successfully raised the lofty sum of $10,000 to pay off the second mortgage. A Harvest Dance featuring Shorty Shoemaker and his band was one of the many successful fundraising events.
Tooke resigned in 1973 after 5 successful years. The programming remained the same, but the number of participants significantly increased to 70. The Board of Directors hired Art Caudill to succeed Tooke. In just his first year, he gave clients the opportunity to work outside the sheltered workshop. They now could earn wages and experience work life in a new way because of the collaboration between Stokely Canning and state and county rehabilitation agencies.
In September of 1974, John Hebblethwaite and his wife moved to Beaver Dam with their five children and he became the Executive Director of the Dodge County Sheltered Workshop. John served from 1974 to 1996. John and his wife are deceased, but in a Green Valley newsletter dated 1978, John was directing the building expansion, name change and adding programs and services during that time. John has extensive background and education in behavioral disabilities. He served for 22 years and became a member of the Planning Committee for the Wisconsin Council of Developmental Disabilities and the Rehabilitation Facilities of Wisconsin.
In 1977, the organization changed its name to Green Valley Enterprises, Inc. because it was the street that the new building rested upon. Longtime employee Sue Meier fondly remembers the move to the new location, “All of our staff packed up and moved everything into the new building. We also organized everything ourselves, it was a great weekend.” Meier still works for Green Valley and adds that she feels like they are family with sentimental memories of Christmas gatherings that included both staff and participants. She is happy to see all of the positive changes in how participants spend their time because of the addition of many new programs and community opportunities.
Kathy Clark, Birth to 3 Manager has worked at Green Valley for 38 years. She reminisced about her time at Green Valley and the growth that she has seen, “The opportunities available to our participants today have expanded immensely. When I started at Green Valley participants were primarily in the Work Activity Program. If there was not an appropriate job for them on the work floor, they participated in activities. Now we have Special Needs Activity Program (SNAP) and the Adult Day Program, also known as Trosten Haus, to provide much more suitable services to address individual needs and provide more appropriate staff ratios. Participants are provided with services and support that are individualized and offer opportunities such as working or volunteering in the community with support services. Tools and resources are available to support our participants in their development to lead full and productive lives in their community. Our participants have taught us a lot over the past 50 years!”
In 1997, Jeanine Knudson was hired by the Board of Directors to be the Executive Director. Much of the growth that Meier and Clark experienced was from the advancements in programming driven by Knudson. The projects she led included starting the Birth to 3 program and the programming for the clients of the TrÖsten Haus. She is also responsible for building the Trosten Haus and the warehouse. Knudson says, “What was most rewarding was having our clients stop in my office every morning to say hello. It was important to me to have an open door and enjoy the people we tried so hard to serve.” But like her predecessors, her challenges were acquiring enough funding to provide services to all of the clients while maintaining the new facilities. She says it was important for her to provide wages and benefits to the skilled staff as they served clients. With the addition of Trosten Haus and various support groups like Alzheimer’s support and Birth to 3 programs, she and her staff scoured government agencies for every available dollar. Twelve years later in 2009, approximately 576 clients were being served in at least one of the seven programs offered.
Clark is proud to be part of the Birth to 3 program and says, “My favorite memory is watching our Birth to 3 program grow and develop into the program we have today. We started with 18 children and have grown to serve as many as 150 some months. I have enjoyed running into some of the families we had in our Birth to 3 program in the community and seeing how the children have grown and developed into typically developing children. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for some of our Birth to 3 kids to return to Green Valley Enterprises for services later in their lives. I’m glad we can be there for those families and their children as well to help meet their child’s needs after aging out of our Birth to 3 program.”
In 2009, after 27 years of outstanding service with12 years as Executive Director, Knudson retired.
The Board of Directors hired Jack Hankes, former Mayor of Beaver Dam, to be the next Executive Director. He stepped into the role with big shoes to fill at a time when Dodge County joined an ongoing statewide transition to managed care. That transition involved big shifts in thinking from the 40 year old county model, and at many levels. Hankes says, “Employees, clients, and client families had to learn how to be successful in the new model, and sometimes it was difficult. Funding agencies shifted from largely accepting what we offered to defining what they wanted us to do, and for whom, and what they were willing to pay for our services. We had to learn how to market Green Valley Enterprises’ services, how to meet client and family needs on a restricted revenue stream, and how to harness technology to make sure that most of our investments were in client service instead of administration. It was hard sometimes, but we got it done.”
Both directors shared the same sentiment about their achievements with the growth of the organization. They believe they were successful because they were surrounded by good people who were willing to adapt to a new world. It was first about client success, and secondarily, the health of the business and employee productivity. Improving the enterprise and ensuring its future were their ultimate goals. All of the milestones reached were because of the contributions of many people and organizations from civic groups to staff.
Knudson says, “I love Green Valley Enterprises, always have and always will. It just takes one smile from any one of our clients and you are captured in their happiness.”