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Center celebrates 50 years

In the mid-1960s, a group of parents, citizens and professionals came together — there was a need specialized and intensive job training services for people experiencing disabilities.

In July 1966, Superior Vocation Center was incorporated and opened shop at 1106 Tower Avenue.

Now, 50 years later, the agency founded to provided supportive services to help people with disabilities find their way in the work world is celebrating the businesses and agencies that have helped along the way to provide integrated employment opportunities for the center’s clientele.

Superior Vocation Center is hosting an open house Thursday to celebrate 50 years of providing the support people with disabilities need to be gainfully employed in the community.

"In the first year, we placed 22 people in the community in jobs," said Tom Karas, a 36-year veteran of Superior Vocation Center. "There were other people working in the center; I would estimate maybe 30."

Now the center serves about 80 people, as well as providing other services to help people live independently. Plus, the center provides lawn-mowing and snow removal, and taking people shopping, to help people live independently.

The center provides vocational evaluations through testing and actual work, and work adjustment training through personal development, job seeking and retention skills and work behavior training. It also provides pre-vocational and job placement services, supported employment and daily living skills.

Karas said even years after an employee is placed, the center provides support for its people when problems arise.

"Our goal for everybody is to work in the community," Karas said. He said when he started with Superior Vocation Center 36 years ago, people who needed short-term services worked in the community while those who needed long-term services worked in the center.

"Part of what we do is educating the employer on the value of working with our people," Karas said. "Statistically, our people have better attendance than the general population."

Today, the majority of people work in the community, he said.

"We made a choice to get people out in the community working," Karas said. "Today, over 90 percent of our people work in community worksites."

And they take on a variety of jobs — food service, grounds work, janitorial, building maintenance and housekeeping.

Karas said there really is no limit — people have worked as drivers, and in housekeeping and manufacturing too.

"It’s part of normalization for our folks," said James Taray, director of the Superior Vocations Center. "They grew in households where people got up and went to work. They get a routine … make some money. It’s also social."

Karas said a number of people come in early just to hang out in the break room to socialize.

Karas said it may be that an individual has worked in a job for years, but an injury left the person unable to continue on their career path. Superior Vocation Center can still help assess their next career path.

Superior Vocations Center partners with the Job Center in Superior, education institutions and mental health services.

"You look at everything the person may need," Karas said.

"We do advocacy outside of the day program," Taray said.

During the open house, people can learn more about the center during a presentation and meet the people who have made the center a success, like Karas, and 29-year veterans Bruce Edwards and Annette Ojala, Taray said.

"It’s kind of fun to be part of that," Karas said. He said in 36 years, it’s something new every day.

"The community and businesses have been very supportive over the years," Taray said.