The only thing Executive Director Rod Braun loves more than tennis is Christian Opportunity Center, where he has worked for the past 30 years.
The former Pella High School boy’s tennis coach and Central College assistant tennis coach accepted the position of Director of Operations at COC on Jan. 13, 1987. Seven months later he was named Executive Director and has led the public benefit corporation ever since.
Braun was hired as the fourth Executive Director in COC history. At the time, he told the Board of Directors he planned to stay for five to seven years. Three decades later, his tenure is nearly double the length of his three predecessors combined.
“COC has been blessed with great governance members during my tenure; great employees and great volunteers; all of whom work collaboratively to ensure meaningful lives for people with disabilities,” said Braun.
Braun graduated from Oregon State University in 1976 with a bachelor of science in geology. He earned his master’s degree in education with an emphasis in special education from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in 1985. During this time, Braun worked for three different disability service providers, resulting in more than 40 years in the field.
“I have had the privilege of making many lifelong friendships, including people in my three positions prior to COC,” Braun said. “My previous jobs also gave me the opportunity to observe and learn from different leadership styles. In my lifetime, there has been a positive sea change in attitudes toward people with disabilities, from segregation in large congregate living situations to living in a home or apartment in the community, having a job in a community business, and being included in the life of a local church of their choosing.”
When Braun was hired in 1987, COC offered supports and services to approximately 60 people with disabilities in Pella and had annual revenues of $1.5 million.
Today, COC provides supports and services to more than 300 people with disabilities in Mahaska, Marion, Polk and Warren counties, has more than 250 employees, annual revenues of more than $11 million and a Foundation Fund with assets in excess of $6 million.
Under Braun’s leadership, COC began expanding in 1989 with the development of vocational supports and services in Oskaloosa. The following year, COC opened its first group home in Des Moines. In 1994, the organization opened two homes in Indianola for people with severe disabilities. Group homes were added in Oskaloosa and Knoxville in 2015 as well.
In total, COC has 24 group homes spread across its five communities.
COC also acquired two organizations in Indianola—Winifred Law Opportunity Center and Total Living Centers, Inc.—in 2002 and 2004, respectively.
“Over the years, we have had opportunities to grow and expand at a pace that provides a challenge without compromising service quality,” said Braun.
But it’s not the physical or financial growth of COC that gives Braun the greatest sense of pride. That designation goes to the people he works with and the people COC supports.
“My co-workers are the best and they go to great lengths to ensure quality lives for people with disabilities,” Braun said. “Consistently, our employees have cited personal satisfaction in seeing people grow and develop new skills as the number one reward of their work.”
Equally impressive is Braun’s dedication to disability services on both a state and national level and his dedication to the local communities, which have supported COC every step of the way.
Braun has been a member of the Pella Noon Kiwanis Club, the Pine Rest of Pella Advisory Board and the Pella Housing Commission. He is a current Board Member for Pella Regional Health Center.
He was also the Council President for Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Knoxville, where he serves as an adult Sunday School teacher.
Braun was a Board Member for the Iowa Association of Community Providers and for the Iowa Donor Network. He served on the Governor’s Planning Council for Developmental Disabilities and as the Council of Reformed Charities President. He was also a Survey Consultant for the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), an organization from which COC has received 12 consecutive three-year accreditations.
In addition, Braun served as a State Association Representative and Board Member for the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR), a national disability providers organization.
“Our five communities have been incredibly supportive of the ministry of COC,” Braun said. “When we communicate a challenge, we have always had a great group of volunteers and donors who have risen to every challenge.”
Braun and Robin, his wife of 39 years, live in Pella with their dog, Arantxa. They raised three children—Sarah, Mark and Ashley—and have four grandchildren.
United States Congressman Dave Loebsack visited Pella’s Christian Opportunity Center on Wednesday for a guided tour of the facilities and a discussion of issues.
Congressman Loebsack previously visited COC in October of 2014.
COC Program Manager Christian Ray and Associate Manager Shalee Vandeboe provided a guided tour of COC’s Facility-Based Employment program. Congressman Loebsack discussed the work being done in COC’s plant with staff and people supported.
COC Associate Director John Eilers presented COC’s state and federal legislative priorities, including: sheltered employment, Managed Care, CMS rules for Medicaid Waiver homes, H.R.5902, and potential for a federal block grant of Medicaid to the states.
Sheltered employment is scheduled to end in May of 2018. The state decision was driven by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and Department of Justice (DOJ) positions on sheltered employment. Congressman Loebsack has not signed on as a co-sponsor of H.R.188, The Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment Act (TIME Act). The end of sheltered employment would deny many of the people COC serves the opportunity to earn a paycheck.
Managed Care began in April of 2016 and has been full of serious problems in getting timely payments from the three Managed Care Organizations. Eilers asked Congressman Loebsack to be an advocate for Iowa providers of disability services funded by Medicaid.
CMS rules for Medicaid Waiver homes state that said homes need to be integrated into the community. If state officials rule that COC homes need to be relocated, it will cost hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars without improving the quality of life of the people living in the homes.
A federal block grant of Medicaid to the states would threaten the quality of COC’s supports and services. The Title XIX Block Grant would mean cost shifting to the states and local government, and COC’s perspective is that the federal government funds people with disabilities better than state or local governments.
The afternoon session concluded with a question-and-answer session with Congressman Loebsack.
Founded in 1969, COC provides residential and vocational support and services to more than 300 people with disabilities in Mahaska, Marion, Polk and Warren counties. For more information visit http://christianopportunity.org/.