Member name: D. Stephen (Steve) Koontz
Las Vegas resident since: 2007
Favorite thing about One Nevada:
My wife and I like that One Nevada is not a bank; it’s a not-for-profit organization that doesn’t need to charge its’ members the unreasonable fees that banks charge their customers for making very normal transactions.
Q: What is your role at Opportunity Village?
I am the Director of Event Operations. My main responsibility is to oversee the operation side of the public and private fundraising events that Opportunity Village produces, including our Celebrity Poker Tournament, the Las Vegas Great Santa Run and our signature event, the Magical Forest.
Q: Whom does Opportunity Village serve?
Opportunity Village is a not-for-profit organization that serves people with intellectual disabilities in the Las Vegas community by providing programs and services that enhance their lives and the lives of the families who love them. Founded in 1954, Opportunity Village has grown to become Nevada’s largest private, not-for-profit community habilitation program, serves more than 3,000 people annually through vocational training, community job placement, art & life skill enrichment, advocacy, and social recreation programs.
Q: What sets Opportunity Village apart from any other organization of its kind?
Opportunity Village has four employment-training centers and a Thrift Store in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson. Because of the events we produce, the charitable donations we receive from local individuals and organizations and the business contracts that our OVIP’s fulfill, we are almost entirely self-funded. An independent report stated that if Opportunity Village did not exist, state and local governments would have to pay more than $32 million dollars to provide similar services to the local community. The entire Las Vegas community benefits from our programs as businesses not only contract with Opportunity Village for assembly and packaging, document shredding and imaging, mass mailings and other business to business services, but also, numerous companies and organizations hire our OVIP’s as employees, creating productive tax paying members of the community. Opportunity Village also saves taxpayers more than $33.7 million a year by lessening the burden of state support for programs for people with disabilities.
Q: Is it true that other states are now inquiring with Opportunity Village to start a similar program?
Interest in Opportunity Village has grown tremendously in the past few years, especially since Penn Jillette chose to make us his charity while competing on Celebrity Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice All Stars. When viewers saw how passionate Penn became while talking about Opportunity Village and our OVIP’s, we started getting calls and emails from around the country, and even internationally, asking how they might get an Opportunity Village in their town.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job at OV?
The most rewarding part of my job is seeing the smiling faces of the children and adults that visit the Magical Forest each holiday season and knowing that the ones who benefit the most from our hard work are the most deserving, special people in Las Vegas, our OVIP’s.
Q: What would you say is the most challenging part?
The most challenging part is making the Magical Forest more “magical” every year. We don’t have the luxury that some larger, for-profit theme parks have of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase the newest attraction or ride. We spend a lot of time looking at what décor is being used in casinos and businesses around the city and reaching out the owners to see if they would be willing to donate the items to us when they are finished using them. If we do receive the donation, then we need to be super creative to find the perfect new home for the item in the Magical Forest. We like to say we are Las Vegas’ best dumpster divers, almost the entire Magical Forest used to be on display somewhere else in Las Vegas.
Q: Can you tell us how the Magical Forest benefits the OVIPs?
In 1991, twenty-two years ago, the Magical Forest opened its gates as a way to thank the Las Vegas community for supporting Opportunity Village and our clients at the Oakey Campus. From a dirt lot, some hay bales, a few decorated trees, hot cocoa and some homemade cookies, the Magical Forest has blossomed over the years to become the most beloved holiday event in Southern Nevada. It is our largest annual fundraiser, with 100% of all the proceeds going to support our programs and services that benefit the nearly 3000 individuals and their families that we serve annually.
Q: How many months does it take to prepare and set up for the Magical Forest?
We work on the Magical Forest all year long. From planning new attractions and collecting donations during the beginning of the year to major construction during the summer months to installing new attractions and decorating every square inch, we keep very busy. Almost every Saturday is a volunteer day and we’ve had up to 400 volunteers in one-day show up to do every kind of project imaginable. We are so very lucky to have such amazing volunteers; we couldn’t come close to producing such an incredible event without the countless volunteers hours donated to us by the community.
Q: What are some of the most unique donations you’ve received?
We are very blessed to get many unique, and sometimes a little strange, donations to the Magical Forest. We received the 60’ tall, animated Christmas tree that used to tower over the Caesars Palace fountains, but we only had enough space available to put up the top 40’. We also receive some amazing items following each Chinese New Year’s celebration. Our friends at the Venetian have donated a 25’ tall rabbit, a 280 foot long fire- breathing dragon, and new to the Magical Forest this year will be the cutest 150 foot long snake you have ever seen!
Q: What do you think would surprise people the most about Opportunity Village or the Magical Forest?
As a staff, our department spends countless hours planning, researching, designing and creating to make the Magical Forest, and all our events, better and better each year. We know that in Las Vegas, our guests have hundreds of entertainment options from eating at world-class restaurants, attending performances by the most talented entertainers anywhere and walking through billion dollar casinos and even with all these unbelievable choices, over 175,000 people each year come to the Magical Forest to celebrate the holiday season. We want to make sure our visitors have as memorable a visit as possible, while still keeping our focus on our mission of helping our OVIP’s and their families have the most rewarding life possible.
Q: Do you have a lot of volunteers that come out for the Magical Forest and how would someone volunteer their time if they wanted to.It takes nearly 100 volunteers each night to run the Magical Forest. In addition thousands more generously donate countless hours of their valuable time, throughout the entire year to build, paint, shovel, plant and clean. We are always searching for new volunteers to join the ranks of our long time volunteers. You can find information by going to our website OpportunityVillage.org or contacting our volunteer coordinator, Ashley Sutherland-Winch at 702.880.4054.
Q: What is one of the most unique projects the OVIPs have worked on?
I think one of the coolest, little known facts is that Opportunity Village clients (OVIP’s) made the scarves that Elvis Presley handed out to ladies in the audience while performing here in Las Vegas. Elvis’ manager, Colonel Parker, was touring Opportunity Village and saw some of our clients sewing scarves. From that moment on, our OVIP’s lovingly sewed each and every scarf for “The King”. We also made special Elvis buttons and the Hound dog sashes that were popular with Elvis collectors.
Q: What do you love the most about the Las Vegas community?
While I love being able to sit by the pool, enjoying the beautiful weather, I really love being able to visit the strip or downtown and feel like you are on vacation. Millions of people come to Las Vegas each year to escape their everyday reality, and we locals can do it anytime we choose. We live in an amazing place!
See excerpts from this interview featured in our 4th Quarter Member Mag.