By Clint Brown
For the past 25 years, Rod Braun, Executive Director of the Christian Opportunity Center, says time has flown by.
The Christian Opportunity Center (COC) is a public benefit corporation that supports more than 250 people with disabilities. COC prides itself on its caring and quality staff and its responsiveness to the needs and wants of people with disabilities. For 40 years, COC has been working to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities.
In a recent newsletter, Braun, originally from Oregon, reflects that ‘it certainly doesn’t seem like 25 years, but calendars don’t lie’.
Looking back, Braun remembers that he wasn’t all that interested in making the move to the Pella facility back in 1987.
“I had know the prior director, Art Ruiter, though a state organization,” Braun said. “We served on committees together and at that time I worked for an organization based out of Nebraska with services in Des Moines and Osceola. I had been in that job, in Des Moines for about 4 years. I had seen in a newsletter (in 1986) where Art had posted a position called director of operations - sort of an associate director position.”
In the fall of ‘86 Braun and Ruiter shared a ride to Waterloo for a committee meeting in which both were involved in.
“We met and on the way up I asked him if he ever filled that position,” Braun remembers. “He said ‘no’, are you interested? I said no, I don’t think so. Art asked if he could at least send me some information about the job and I said sure. He sent me some information about a week later. He called and asked if I had a chance to look it over. I told him yes and he asked me if I would be interested in interview with human resources.”
Braun again thought to himself and couldn’t really convince himself that he was truly interested in the position.
“I told Art that I didn’t really think I was really interested,” Braun said. “But he insisted that there was no obligation and ‘just come and visit’. I came on a Saturday and remember I had hurt my back and was in pain the whole time of the two-hour interview. A week later, Art called me back and asked if I could come back and interview with the board of directors. I told him it seems we are moving awful fast and I wasn’t so sure I was really interested.”
Ruiter wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer though.
“Once again, with his famous line, Art said ‘just come meet with them’,” Braun said. “I said I would come and before I left that night they had offered me a contract for director of operations. This was in November of 1986 and so I started Jan. 13, 1987.”
An unexpected change
After just a month in the new position, things took a turn that Braun didn’t expect.
“I was 33 at the time, I thought this would be a great opportunity,” Braun said. “Stay here 10 years or so and when Art leaves I might have his position. Five weeks later, Art resigned. I had no idea five weeks later he would resign. The board named me interim director and then they went through a search process, which I am not sure if they ever interviewed anyone. In Aug. of 1987 they offered me the job.”
Support of COC has always been something Braun is proud of.
“One of the things I did when I first started was I took past board meeting notes home with me and read them,” he said. “I wanted to get a sense of the history of the organization. I had some knowledge of COC, but I didn’t know all the details. One thing that impressed me is the community support, in all of our communities. From volunteers to capitol campaigns - the community has always been supportive.”
Over the years, Braun explained how COC has expanded their vocational services to Oskaloosa in 1989; residential services to Des Moines in 1990; and residential and vocational services to Indianola in 1994.
As of November 2011, Braun said that there were a total of 123 individuals on campus here in Pella.
“We have $10 million is annual revenues,” Braun said. “It was around $1.5 million when I first started with approximately 65 on staff. Sometimes people with disabilities are sold short, given low expectations. Once you get to know them, you realize more similarities than differences between yourself and them.”