Inspiring Youth Through InspireMSP Partnership

It's not every day that a school bus pulls up to our main office in Minnetonka and drops off 40 excited high school students. But it happened three times this past fall and winter, and if Joel Prater has anything to say about it, it will happen again and again and again.

“You often hear about that one teacher, that one mentor or that one experience that changed the trajectory of a young person's life," said Joel Prater, Director of Visualization and Technology. “InspireMSP is helping to create those life-changing experiences for teens across the Twin Cities, and it's such a great honor that Opus is a part of creating them, too."

InspireMSP is a Twin Cities nonprofit that exposes teens, many of whom are from underserved communities, to a variety of creative career opportunities through field trips to organizations that use creativity to positively impact communities. Over the course of an hour or two, students tour a venue, talk with creative professionals, and watch the creative process unfold. Among the nonprofit's other partners are the Guthrie Theater, the Minnesota Opera, First Avenue and Hennepin Theatre Trust.

Open Doors and Opening Doors

Matt Rauenhorst, President & Chief Executive Officer of Opus Development Company, first introduced Joel to InspireMSP hoping it could be a potential resource to support our Open Doors Internship program. Joel was leading that program and was looking for high school graduates who might be interested in pursuing a summer internship here.

“After hearing about InspireMSP, I went from seeking a near-term solution to my quest for summer interns to embracing a longer-term approach," Joel said. “I realized that if I helped ignite a spark in even one of these high school kids, they might be interested enough to come back here in four or five years. That would really be something to have an intern candidate say, 'You know, I got interested in Opus when I visited here with InspireMSP.'"

Eager to get the ball rolling, Joel quickly presented the InspireMSP partnership opportunity to the Opus Foundation. Not surprisingly, with youth development a key focus area, the Foundation agreed InspireMSP was a more than worthy cause.

“Many of these kids have never been to the theater. They haven't dared to dream of working in the music industry. They don't know that graphic design is a career," said Joel. “But when the doors to arts and cultural venues are opened to them, a world of opportunity is also opened. Suddenly, they can see themselves working in a creative field and maybe even on a path to a better tomorrow."

The Opus Experience

Joel organized each field trip to ensure students met with several different creative groups, including our project architects and design architects. Through those meetings, students saw shop drawings and blueprints, worked on mood boards and learned the connection between what is drawn and what is built. The teens also met with Joel.

“Something pretty cool about my job is that I get to use the same design and motion graphic tools that are used to make the Marvel movies and video games like Minecraft and Mario Kart," exclaimed Joel. “These kids know pop culture, and they know gaming and movies. It's all part of their life experience. So when I share this with the kids and show them some of the technology I use, they're kind of awe-struck to realize that fun and creative jobs using fun and creative tools are well within their reach."

The opportunity for youth to see, experience and participate in the creative work taking place here is rewarding for everyone involved, but Joel believes the reward is greatest when authentic connections are made. According to Joel, it is when he is listening intently, making eye contact and acknowledging feelings that he can recognize when he's really connected with a student.

“It's not with every student, but with at least a few that their eyes get wide, they smile, they nod and lean in, and that's the spark. That's the magic moment when I know I had a positive impact on someone who likely really needed it."

While the spark may not find every student, Joel is happy to point out that in post-field trip surveys, 99% of students found their experience here to be amazing or cool. As for that outlying 1%, Joel isn't concerned. “Maybe theater is more their thing!"

Recognition for InspireMSP

While Joel has been busy planning InspireMSP field trips for the 2024–2025 school year, we recently named the nonprofit our 2024 Gerry Rauenhorst Building Community Award Winner. The award honors our founder Gerry's legacy of giving and his firm belief that business has a responsibility to strengthen society. In recognition of its impact on youth and the community, InspireMSP received a $71,000 Opus Foundation grant – $1,000 for each year since Gerry founded the business that would become the Opus of today.

“I can't think of a more deserving organization to win this award and receive this financial support," smiled Joel. “We might be inspiring students who visit us through InspireMSP, but sometimes I think that I'm the one who's being inspired – inspired by InspireMSP's leadership, inspired by their commitment to making the future better for students and inspired by the teens themselves, who are eager to learn and find their place in the world."

Added Joel, “My experiences with InspireMSP give me hope, comfort that the next generation is going to be okay. We're all going to be okay."


Learn more about Giving at Opus and the Opus Foundation.​