History of OWL

Getting Started

OWL began with a group of concerned parents who wanted to help their adolescent, yet disabled children become self- sufficient adults. In 1959, the group approached the Junior League of Lexington with the idea for a community vocational rehabilitation program geared toward helping people with disabilities. Leaders from both public and private sectors met to discuss this new concept, and the idea took off. On September 1, 1961, Opportunity Workshop of Lexington, Inc. (OWL) was established as a nonprofit 501 (C) 3 corporation. The Junior League of Lexington presented OWL with $30,000 from their annual horse show as seed money to start operations. This exciting new community-minded organization began operating in a humble 3,500 square foot warehouse in downtown Lexington. OWL’s leaders drafted a mission to guide the business, which read as follows:

“Provide a facility that is a work-oriented Community Rehabilitation Program with a controlled environment and the necessary related services in order that the individuals who have barrier to employment can obtain the required skills to be employed, thus becoming a more fully participating member of our society.”

OWL Logos From Oldest to Newest

Historical Highlights

In 1967, with the demand for additional rehabilitation services and more space, the Board approved the purchase of land at our present site on Kennedy Road. With an additional $60,000 from the Junior League of Lexington and a mortgage, a 12,500 square foot facility was built. Then again in 1972, demand from both consumers and businesses created the need to build an addition to the physical plant and increase OWL’s rehabilitation department, doubling the plant to 25,000 square feet. In 1977, OWL purchase an additional 150 front footage of land on Kennedy Road, where, in 1982, an annex was constructed with funds generated from over 20 years of operations by the 4,566 trainees/employees who had been served up to that time, bringing the total square footage to 37,000. In 1989, OWL began an outside services department providing janitorial services, later adding mowing services, to government agencies and other customers. The off-site contracts allowed for additional training and employment opportunities.

In 1998, OWL purchased a 6,500 square foot building adjacent to its Kennedy Road location to allow for future expansion possibilities. In the same year, the Rehabilitation Department split and created a new division called Skill Enhancement and Employment Center (SEEC). This move helped promote a continued focus of serving persons with Learning Disabilities (LD) and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Then, in 1998, a task force was formed by Board members and staff to change OWL’s name, Opportunity for Work and Learning (keeping OWL), and logo to better reflect the mission of OWL. In 2001, OWL initiated a diversification project with the goal of further implementing “best practices” for the manufacturing department, expanding the industrial base of jobs and providing more employment opportunities.

By 2003, OWL had successfully met requirements for our Quality Management System for ISO- 9001:2000 Certification. Our manufacturing department was renamed, Lexington Manufacturing Center, and began branding the Center with its own logo. Over the next two years, we purchased additional property adjacent to our current site on Kennedy Road. Three buildings, the largest being 40,000 square feet, and a vacant lot, provided needed space for current operations and allowed options for future growth. In 2006, approval was given to start the process to establish the OWL Foundation as a means to further our community awareness and to support special projects. The OWL Foundation received 501 (c) 3 determination on February 14, 2007, and the OWL Foundation began operation in July of 2007.


Today, OWL is spread among four large facilities on Kennedy Road with over 74,000 square feet of office, manufacturing and warehouse space. Services are provided in all seventeen counties of the Bluegrass Area Development District and Jefferson County. More than 250 community leaders have served on our volunteer board, providing a wide variety of expertise and support. Our team of dedicated staff and management has been paramount to OWL’s success. Over our long and storied history, OWL has attracted some of the best and brightest professionals in our field to take on the challenging work of vocational rehabilitation and job placement. And succeed, they have. Over 17,000 people throughout Central Kentucky have benefited from OWL’s specialized rehabilitation and employment services and over 2,750 have secured successful employment. OWL continually looks for ways to improve our services to the community and the businesses we serve. The OWL Center’s and SEEC’s services are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation and Rehabilitation Facilities. The Lexington Manufacturing Center competes with the best manufacturing firms to provide high quality services at a cost-effective price, all while providing good jobs for our consumers. LMC continually meets ISO 9000 standards and maintains its certification year after year.