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Chris Jones

Voting to Extend An Opportunity

13 October 2004

For the Las Vegas Convention Authority and its $197 million annual budget, an item worth $90,000 might be considered relatively small.

But for Linda Smith, chief development officer for Opportunity Village, it's a very big deal indeed.

"It absolutely gives us credibility," Smith said of a four-year extension offer worth about $360,000 for mailing and inserting convention authority materials that will be considered at today's convention authority meeting.

Beyond the financial impact, the deal would come with emotional perks.

"In our mailing division alone, there are about 35 people whose hands touch items that are sent all over the world," said Smith, who has worked at Opportunity Village for 28 years. "That makes them feel good and important to know they're helping Las Vegas."

Opportunity Village is a Southern Nevada charitable organization that provides job training and other benefits to residents with severe mental or physical disabilities. The organization has existed since 1954, but Smith said many locals don't fully appreciate how much area businesses do in support of the charity.

A wide assortment of companies employ about 1,000 Opportunity Village-trained workers -- known as "clients" -- at sites around the valley, while 550 or so work from training centers in Henderson and west Las Vegas, Smith said.

Participating businesses include MGM Mirage, Harrah's Entertainment, American Nevada Co. and the Las Vegas Valley Water District. Opportunity Village clients also operate one of the state's largest document destruction services and clean more than 3 million square feet of office and parking lot space at high-profile destinations such as McCarran International Airport, the Foley Federal Building and the U.S. Department of Energy's Summerlin office.

Training-center clients are paid for each job they complete, be it a stuffed envelope or coffee products basket assembled for use in a local hotel room. When a client's workload produces pay rates that approach minimum wage, Opportunity Village moves that client to a job in the outside community, she said.

"These are people whose families were told when they were born that they were profoundly disabled and not going to be able to amount to much," Smith said. "And here they come to earn a paycheck, piling that paycheck back into the community."

Station Casinos Vice President Lesley Pittman on Monday called Opportunity Village "a great organization that's unique to Southern Nevada."

Over the past five years, Pittman said, the Las Vegas-based gaming giant has paid $400,000 and countless labor hours on behalf of the charity.

"It certainly is a huge asset to our community in terms of providing opportunities for individuals who are physically and mentally challenged," she said.

The convention authority's 13-member board will vote today on what's effectively a four-year deal with Opportunity Village. If approved, Opportunity Village workers continue addressing and stuffing envelopes for use in the tourism organization's direct mail marketing efforts.

The deal's first-year value is nearly $90,600, though the convention authority's operations division has asked the board to simultaneously OK three one-year extensions, provided cost increases do not exceed 5 percent per year.

Opportunity Village has handled similar tasks for the convention authority for nearly three decades, Smith said. State law allows the convention authority to skip the competitive bidding process when awarding contracts to groups that assist the mentally or physically disabled.

Voting to Extend An Opportunity is republished from