Robert Stack, founder and CEO of Community Options, is a man with a mission to help the disabled. In fact, you could describe Stack’s work as a higher calling. The former seminarian first began working to improve the lives of disabled persons at age 13 while attending St. Fidelis Seminary. Young Robert spent his free time helping disabled children with their studies and social skills. Stack later left the seminary and entered the University of Dayton, where he graduated with a bachelor’s in philosophy in 1976. But he never forgot the experiences he had with those special children and continued working with disabled peoples through various nonprofits.
Stack’s experiences with these nonprofits, including serving as director of United Cerebral Palsy of New Jersey, allowed him to identify what was good and bad about organizations for the disabled. He became convinced that he could organize a better nonprofit that would be able to effectively and profoundly change the lives of disabled people and their families. Stack began searching for ways to make his vision for a better nonprofit. His vision became realty in February 1989 when he founded Community Options at his Bordentown, New Jersey kitchen table with a check for $347.
Today, Community Options has an operational budget of $81 million and operates in Kentucky, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. It provides residential, employment services, and programs that help young people with disabilities transition from school to a work environment.Community Options’ School to Employment Program (STEP) works with disabled students and their families during their final year of high school to place the student with one of Community Options’ select workplace partners to ensure a successful transition from student to independent, gainfully-employed adult. Workplace partners include AMC Movie Theatres and Toys ‘R’ Us.
Teaching disabled adults the tools necessary to live independent, fulfilling lives is important to Stack. Reflecting this priority, Community Options has established over 400 homes where 1,500 disabled persons are able to receive the assistance necessary to ensure that they can live independently and avoid spending their lives behind the walls of a government-run institution. Community Options has also set up Community Options Enterprises (COE), a division that owns and operates businesses throughout New Jersey and Texas that it staffs with the disabled people it serves. COE businesses include Vaseful Flowers and Gifts, a chain of flower and gift shops; Presents of Mind, a gift and gourmet food boutique; and The Daily Plan It, a shared and virtual office provider.
While Robert Stack spends most of his time finding new and innovative ways to empower disabled people and their families, he has not neglected his own quest for self-improvement. While leading Community Options, Stack found the time to go to business school and graduated Summa Cum Laude from Southern California University’s MBA program. He has also attended the University of Friborg in Switzerland, the University of Rome, and the University of London. Stack has shown that it is quite possible–not to mention immensely rewarding–to build a successful career of helping others to become successes in their own lives.