Focus on abilitiesThere was a time when physical and mental challenges meant being put away in an institution.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
There was a time when physical and mental challenges meant being put away in an institution.
Today, however, organizations like the Challenge Center and Goodwill Industries are working with those challenges to create opportunities for people once thought incapable of caring for themselves.
Learning to overcome those challenges is creating a workforce that fills a variety of niches. It’s giving people an opportunity to live fuller, richer lives.
“As we work to revitalize our economy, it is essential that each of us can bring our talents, expertise, and passion to bear in the marketplace,” President Barack Obama declared in a proclamation identifying October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
And the Challenge Center and Goodwill provide opportunities for training and overcoming physical and mental challenges to find their niche in the world.
Wheelchair bound and working with gnarled, inflexible hands, Dores Youngblood spends his days sorting paper to remove staples, paperclips, rubber bands and other fastening devices that could damage the shredders at Marathon Industries, a subsidiary of the Challenge Center that provides confidential shredding services to a variety of Superior businesses. Before going to work at the Challenge Center about a year ago, Youngblood said he spent his days at home, watching television.
“I just want to be with people,” Youngblood said. “They are very good to me … That’s the most important thing in life, to make friends.”
And it creates an opportunity for independence. Youngblood said his brother and sister-in-law help him with whatever he needs, but being able to go to work every day allows him to be a bit less reliant on them.
Services provided by the Challenge Center offer people with an introduction into the work world, not unlike skills every other individual gains when they take on their first jobs, said Debbie Gergen of the Challenge Center.
“The programs provide multiple focuses,” said Challenge Center director Gene Chuzles. “One is meaningful daytime employment for individuals. There’s also training and assessment, and hopefully it becomes a step toward community employment. We do have those options also, and we will be emphasizing them more in the future.”
It’s a goal for Goodwill Industries too.
“Community jobs include restaurant worker, cashier, warehouse attendant, office helper, lawn care worker, home health aide, housekeeper and many more,” said Valarie Clark, a spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries. “Jobs are flexible and can be tailored to an employer’s need. We have more than 30 community employment partners, including AmericInn in Proctor, Bernick’s and Black Bear Casino to name a few.”
Choremasters, a Goodwill subsidiary, provides supervised work crews to provide area companies with lawn care and janitorial services.
Goodwill Industries provides training in basic work skills such as punctuality and specific skills in areas such as sorting donated goods, office work, janitorial services, general manufacturing and retail work.
After a drunk driving accident at age 19, Inge Kastens said she’s lucky to be alive. However, the resulting injuries left her with three rods in her back and a traumatic brain injury means she doesn’t remember things the way she should.
Still, for almost nine years, she’s found enjoyment in making Goodwill’s stores look good.
Kastens is responsible for stocking the Superior Goodwill store, color-coordinating displays and making sure the merchandise is available for customers.
“I just like things to look good,” she said. She said she doesn’t know what she would be doing if she didn’t work for Goodwill, but she likes to get out of the house, go to work and earn a paycheck despite the difficulties she still faces as a result of the accident.
“It’s really nice that they’re helping me out,” she said.
For Wanda Meinke, being able to strike out on her own when she filed for a divorce after 22 years of marriage, despite physical and speech challenges was a great opportunity. After all, she needed to earn a paycheck, and muscle control issues that make it difficult to walk unassisted and make speech difficult might have made finding employment in a setting outside of the Challenge Center more difficult.
Despite her limitations, she carries a lot of responsibility.
“I do a little bit of everything, but my main job is packing tomatoes,” said Meinke, who works primarily in the greenhouse of Bay Produce. “I like people around me. I like the supervisors. I like making money.”
While she admits there are some days after more than 10 years on the job, she doesn’t want to go to work, most days she can’t wait to get there and do her job. And she said people with disabilities fill a niche that some people can’t or won’t do — her job is important to make sure Bay Produce’s products are of good quality and in good condition when they get to market.
She said work helps people with disabilities be a part of the community and gives them a chance to be independent.
“I like making money,” she said.