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 workplace, 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 Workshop 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 workshop 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 willingness of many individuals who wanted to make a sheltered workshop a reality…even though they had little background 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.”
A note from Brian Jacobson, Executive Director “I really enjoyed reading the Genesis of GVE (Green Valley Enterprises). GVE’s volunteers showed an amazing degree of foresight. Their mission to transition people into private industry is still as relevant today as it was fifty years ago. A quote from Margaret Mead comes strongly to mind, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.’”
“GVE has a long list of people to thank for it’s success over the last 50 years, including: A supportive community, strong board of directors, talented and determined staff and leadership, and parents and caretakers that have steadfastly advocated for their loved ones.”
In celebrating Green Valley’s 50th anniversary, all 2018 newsletters will highlight a series of articles, including: The Genesis of Green Valley, The History, Our Programs and The Future. All articles will be available on our website at www.gveinc.org.