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The Op Shop honored with two state awards for support of Fairmont's disability community

Times West Virginian - 11/17/2023

Nov. 17—FAIRMONT — For their years of service to disabled community members across Marion County, not-for-profit community rehabilitation program The Op Shop was recently honored with two awards from the West Virginia Association of Rehabilitation Facilities.

The Charleston-based West Virginia Association of Rehabilitation Facilities presented The Op Shop its State Use Outstanding Rehabilitation Large Facility Award, and presented Executive Director Eric Freeman the Q.J. Humphreys Distinguished Career Award.

The Op Shop focuses on creating opportunities for adults with disabilities to pursue employment.

"We're in business to employ people with disabilities that maybe can't find a job or have trouble keeping a job," Freeman said.

With contracts in about 10 counties in both in-state and out-of-state establishments, Freeman said The Op Shop connects adults with disabilities from Marion County with opportunities to work and receive pay, often through construction and manual labor projects.

"We don't only employ them, we train them," Freeman said. "They can work for us as long as they want, or they can move on to another job in the future."

Freeman said this grants individuals with disabilities a degree of financial independence and security that can be difficult to find independently.

"A lot of our guys have families now, they have vehicles, they have houses that they wouldn't have been able to have," Freeman said. "It helps them get off of assistance from the state, such as food stamps and stuff like that. It helps them have self-worth."

For the organization's focus on community empowerment and disability advocacy, The Op Shop emerged as a frontrunner during this year's award season, according to WVARF Chief Financial Officer Nita Hobbs.

WVARF is a nonprofit agency that "facilitates business between the state of West Virginia and 27 nonprofits around the state who employ people with disabilities," Hobbs said. The organization has a long history of working with The Op Shop, and was proud to honor the Fairmont-based program for its dedication to the local disability community.

Nominees and winners for both awards were selected by WVARF staff members, who work closely with eligible organizations and have deep insight into the value each group brings to local communities in West Virginia.

Each year, WVARF's large facility award goes to a community rehabilitation program with more than 50 clients "who performed extraordinary service in the previous fiscal year or had some sort of program initiative that put them above and beyond," Hobbs said.

This year's awards mark the first since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, so Hobbs said with these awards The Op Shop was honored for years of service and hard work extending back to 2020.

"They were really instrumental in mentoring other community rehab programs when COVID was going on," Hobbs explained. "We just appreciate our relationship with The Op Shop, and their 'Go get 'em' attitude to just help everybody out as a team instead of just looking out for themselves."

The other award presented to staff at The Op Shop went specifically to Freeman, who Hobbs said, has played a key role in uplifting the disability community in Marion County and beyond.

"I love interacting with Eric Freeman," she said. Seeing Freeman maintain "a high level of performance" over many years made WVARF particularly eager to honor him with an award.

While Freeman knew in advance that The Op Shop received a facility-wide award, he said that his personal achievement award came as a complete surprise, only revealed during the Oct. 26 awards ceremony in Charleston.

"I was surprised, but if it wasn't for my staff or my workers, I couldn't have got that anyways," he said. "It's all about them."

Freeman said receiving honors for his hard work only renews his commitment to supporting The Op Shop and local adults with disabilities. He added that the hard work of his team has helped bring the organization to its current heights.

"I just want to keep employing people with disabilities," Freeman said. The WVARF awards "mean a lot, because that pretty much all falls back on my workers and their dedication to their work in The Op Shop."

Reach Jack jwalker@timeswv.com

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