Green jobs and meaningful work: Pine Grove nonprofit secures jobs and lives

April 6, 2011

Twenty-one years, 20 years, 19 years, five years - the roll-call of employees' time on the job is an impressive one.

Opportunity Connections, a Hood River nonprofit which helps maximize potential for people with disabilities, is an organization with an inspiring vision, an entrepreneurial spirit and successful employees.

To help develop job opportunities for disabled clients, OC has a long history of creative thinking and small business development at its Pine Grove area facility on Thomsen Road.

In order to help the 70-plus adult mid-Columbia residents in its program, OC provides much more than a sheltered work environment.

"We have to have a mindset to look for new ideas and ways of creating work that our clients can succeed at," said Terry Goss, customer service representative for OC's Gorge Security Shred (a secure document destruction service).

Gorge Security Shred is just one of many small business components under the OC umbrella. It also happens to be its fastest growing business.

"We are the only local secure shredding business in the Gorge," said Tom Morgan, director of commercial services, "and we are expanding every month."

The whole GSS business model, like most of what OC does, begins and ends with recycling.

About two years ago, OC received a donation of a used, high-quality industrial-strength document shredder from Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital.

"We then had to develop a business plan and upgrade our facilities to begin the shred business," said Rita Rathkey, OC executive director.

This preparation was accomplished through grants from the Mt. Hood Economic Alliance and the Tri-County Hazardous Waste and Recycling Program.

"We received our first batch of documents in March of last year," said Bob Walter, GSS production manager.

Since then, the client-employees of GSS "have been responsible for shredding and recycling about 50,000 tons of paper," notes Walter.

Once shredded and baled, the paper is sold and delivered to SP Newsprint in Newberg where it is pulped and turned back into useable paper.

Documents arrive in a number of forms. GSS provides some contracted clients with containers for their business sites that are then picked up on a regular basis. Businesses and individuals can also request a one-time pickup, or drop off their document stashes themselves.

"Sometimes people just need to clean out stored paper from their basements, and we do that too," said Morgan.

Once the paper arrives at the GSS facility, employees remove any stray items from the paper and load the shredding machine.

"We already have about a dozen clients certified to work on this project," said Walter.

Certification involves training in confidentiality and safety, along with criminal background checks and drug screens.

The stringent employee certification process follows regulations required by NAID, the certifying body for secure document destruction businesses.

GSS is a member of NAID and follows all of the guidelines and regulations to ensure document information remains confidential throughout the destruction and recycling process, including the use of facility security systems, on-site closed circuit television monitors and secure storage containers.

The cost to shred and recycle runs at about 20 cents per pound (not including pickup fees).

In addition to GSS, OC also operates an e-waste receiving facility (no keyboards or mice) for computer, laptop and television CPUs.

Other small revenue generators include X-ray film recycling (for silver content); fire-starter log production (which compresses old candles and cherry pits into compact blocks); K-pump assembly (custom hand pumps for boats); and the operation of a traditional thrift store in The Dalles (donations of all kinds accepted).

With an additional 4 percent state funding cutback anticipated this fall, on top of this year's 6 percent cut, OC will continue to seek revenue generating opportunities to help sustain successful lives for its clients.

Gorge Security Shred facilities are co-located with OC at 2940 Thomsen Road in Hood River. Documents and/or donations may be brought to the facility during regular business hours. For more information: 541-386-3520.

Upcoming Fundraisers

In addition to seeking new clients for GSS, the OC staff are preparing for two upcoming fundraisers. See below for details:

April 12 - 44th Anniversary Chicken and Spaghetti Dinner for OC - 5:30-7:30 p.m., Elks Lodge, Hood River; adults $10; children $4.50, includes raffle and silent auction. Tickets: Waucoma Bookstore in Hood River and Klindt's Booksellers in The Dalles.

May 15 - Mad Hatter Tea Party at the Columbia Gorge Hotel from 2-4 p.m. Adults and children welcome; call for ticket prices. Purchase at Waucoma and Klindt's boo

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