Community Relations

Kirk at Work – Lessons on Leadership from the Final Frontier

Wednesday, March 29th, 2023

Captain James T. Kirk is widely regarded as one of the most iconic and effective leaders in science fiction history. Our staff participated in our own version of Elf on the Shelf with a leadership twist and the the help of quintessential leader, Captain Kirk , who led his crew into the unknown and continued to succeed time and time again. Employees were encouraged to look for Captain Kirk around the office and take a selfie with him. Prizes were awarded to our staff who participated in the form of Gift Certificates to local businesses, Bakers & Hale, Post Commons, Germania Brew House, the Ferguson Burger Bar and Decaro’s. Check out the video we put together from the submissions!

Kirk’s success was no fluke. His style of command demonstrates a keen understanding of leadership and how to maintain a team that succeeds regardless of the obstacles.  Over the course of a week our Training Team shared key leadership lessons that can be taken away from Captain Kirk: Daily lessons included never stop learning, play poker, not chess, and embrace change, among others.

Some of the leadership qualities that were shared are listed below:

  • Never Stop Learning: “You know the greatest danger facing us is ourselves, an irrational fear of the unknown. But there’s no such thing as the unknown– only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.”Kirk’s reputation at the Academy was that of a “walking stack of books” and a passion for learning helped him through several missions. It helps to never stop learning. The more knowledge you have, the more creative you can be. The more you’re able to do, the more solutions you have for problems at your disposal. Sure, you might never have to face down a reptilian alien on a desert planet like Captain Kirk, but you never know what the future holds. Knowledge is your best key to overcoming whatever obstacles are in your way.
  • Play Poker, Not Chess: “Not chess, Mr. Spock. Poker. Do you know the game?”No hate to the game of chess, but chess is often taken too seriously as a metaphor for leadership strategy. For all of its intricacies, chess is a game of defined rules that can be mathematically determined. It’s ultimately a game of boxes and limitations. A far better analogy to strategy is poker, not chess. Life is a game of probabilities, not defined rules. And often understanding your opponents is a much greater advantage than the cards you have in your hand. Playing that strategy with an eye to the psychology of our competitors, not just the rules and circumstances of the game can often lead to better outcomes than following the rigid lines of chess.
  • Embrace the Change: We are often, in our roles as leaders, driven by a passion. It might be a product or service, it might be a way of doing things. But no matter how much that passion burns within us, the reality is that times change. Different products are created. Different ways of doing things are developed. And there will come times in your life when that passion alone isn’t viable anymore. A time when it no longer makes sense to pursue your passion in the same way that you had before. When that happens, no matter how painful it is, you need to embrace the change. That is, change what isn’t working and embark on a new path, even if that means having to live in a Klingon ship for awhile

Final Takeaway – Respect: Kirk has a deep respect for his crew and the people he interacts with. He treats everyone with dignity and respect, and he’s always willing to listen to different perspectives.

Overall, Captain Kirk is an excellent example of a leader who embodies the qualities of courage, vision, adaptability, and respect. His leadership style has inspired countless people over the years and continues to be a model for leaders in all fields.

Shawn’s Story – Hopeless to Hopeful

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2023

Mascoutah, IL – “If you are ever feeling as if life is beating you down, I want you think of Shawn Kehrer. He has experienced more than his fair share of setbacks. Yet he keeps on coming back. This morning with the help of Jimmy Kruckow, Priscilla Carden Visintine, and Lisa M Burns-Wojick of Challenge Unlimited, Inc. – An AbilityOne Provider, I told Shawn’s story of resilience in my ‘My Lou’ segment.”

Thank you Rene Knott and KSDK for sharing Shawn’s Story!

Shawn you are an inspiration!

Wednesday, February 15th, 2023

Free Income Tax Preparation Assistance Available

CHICAGO – Individuals living with disabilities, low-to-moderate income families and older adults needing assistance filing their 2022 income taxes can receive free help through several trusted programs across Illinois. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), American Association of Retired Persons’ (AARP) Foundation Tax-Aide Program, and the Ladder Up Tax Assistance Program, provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals in select locations statewide.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), American Association of Retired Persons’ (AARP) Foundation Tax-Aide Program, and the Ladder Up Tax Assistance Program, provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals in select locations statewide.

“It is important for Illinois taxpayers to know they can receive help from qualified volunteers certified by the IRS at various locations statewide,” said Illinois Department of Revenue Director David Harris. “These individuals are ready and willing to assist taxpayers in filing their state and federal tax returns accurately and on time by the April 18 deadline.”

How taxpayer assistance is provided and when services are available varies by region, based upon volunteer capacity.

“Even modest tax refunds can be a significant boost to older adults’ household budgets,” said Illinois Department on Aging Director Paula Basta. “By seeking free tax prep assistance from a trusted local program, you have the best likelihood of getting your full refund and of getting your taxes done on time, correctly and hassle-free.”

The IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs offer free basic tax return preparation to qualified individuals needing assistance in preparing their own tax returns. People making $60,000 or less, persons with disabilities and limited English-speaking taxpayers can take advantage of this service. In addition, the TCE program offers free tax help, particularly for those who are 60 years of age and older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors. VITA and TCE sites are generally located at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls, and other convenient locations across the country.

The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Program provides free tax assistance, with a special focus on taxpayers over the age of 50 or who have low-to-moderate income. Availability is determined at the local or community level. AARP membership is not required to receive assistance.

In Chicagoland, the Ladder Up Tax Assistance Program (TAP) provides free basic tax return preparation for families earning up to $60,000 and individuals earning up to $32,000 annually. IRS-certified volunteer tax preparers assist in filing federal and state returns.

Taxpayers can search for a free tax assistance provider closest to them by visiting IDOR’s website Individuals with questions should contact IDOR’s Taxpayer Assistance Division at 800-732-8866.

Taxpayers may also visit any of IDOR’s offices located in Chicago, Des Plaines, Fairview Heights, Marion, Rockford, and Springfield to receive assistance. Staff at these locations can help with any Illinois state income tax filing inquiries and are available weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Click the link below for full details from the Illinois Department of Revenue on who qualifies and how to participate in the Program: Free Income Tax Preparation Assistance Available

Challenge Unlimited mourns the loss of a champion for disability options.

Tuesday, January 24th, 2023

Edwardsville, IL – Local attorney and beloved husband and father John P. Gibbons, 85, of Edwardsville, Illinois, received the Last Rites and passed away suddenly on January 19, 2023 from complications of recently diagnosed pancreatic cancer. He was surrounded by his wife and their seven living children.

He served as counsel since 1984 and on the Board of Directors of Challenge Unlimited for many years. He devoted much of his life to increasing opportunities and options for individuals living with disabilities.  John Gibbons was a champion advocate for choice who increased employment and residential options at Challenge Unlimited. His legacy will live on through the individuals he has helped and the opportunities he has created for them. Our condolences go out to his family. His absence will certainly be felt at Challenge Unlimited, Inc., An AbilityOne Provider Unlimited and he will be deeply missed.

You can read about John’s life, accomplishments and his contributions to the community here in his obituary.

Asia Slack celebrates 24 years with Residential Options, Inc.

Friday, January 13th, 2023

In 1999, Brandy’s Have You Ever was at the top of the Billboard Charts, Fight Club was the top grossing film followed closely by The Matrix, a blizzard snowstorm smashed into the Midwestern United States, causing 14 inches of snow in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and 19 inches in Chicago, Illinois and Asia Slack joined the team at #ResidentialOptions.

Her journey has been a 24-year labor of love and we wanted to share a story with you about how much of a difference has made in the lives of those individuals that she cares for. Asia is the Team Leader at one of our #ResidentialOptions group homes and she cares for our residents like they are family.

For most, a routine dental visit is just that: routine. But for some adults with physical, mental or developmental disabilities, routine visits can be more of a challenge. Often times individuals with disabilities can become fearful and struggle with receiving this much needed dental care. Asia Slack cares for one such individual who does not tolerate most medical exams and can sometimes become aggressive out of fear, making it difficult for providers and staff to provide treatment. This client was long overdue for a dental exam as previous providers had refused to see her due to her behavior at previous visits.

Asia cares for this individual so much that she and went above and beyond to ensure that the patient received the necessary care. She personally contacted Aspen Dental and explained the circumstances surrounding this client. She got the dentist to agree to see her. Asia has cared for this client, demonstrating her patience and commitment to her work. Asia has built a relationship of trust. The day of the exam Asia stated that she and the client would go by themselves to this appointment.

Asia’s supervisor “was extremely doubtful that the appointment would be completed but Asia took the client for treatment even though she knew the individual might refuse the exam.” With Asia’s calming presence and her strong relationship of trust, not only did the client let the dentist look in their mouth, but also stood still for the x-ray machine. This often only comes from years on interacting and caring for the same individual.

This is only one example of how much trust and love Asia has built with those that she cares for. She is a compassionate caregiver and a blessing to our organization. We are so proud to have her on our team. From all of us at Challenge Unlimited, Residential Options and our affiliates and partners Thank You for 24 years of service Asia!

Asia Slack 24 Year Anniversary Video by Challenge Unlimited

“The only time you should ever look back, is to see how far you’ve come.”

Wednesday, December 28th, 2022

There is a great quote about revisiting the past. I am not sure who said it first, but it is often repeated – and for good reason. 

In 2022, we continued to return to a sense of normalcy in many areas of our operations following COVID yet still encountered setbacks with the State, individuals with disabilities and even staff due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, there are several notable successes to celebrate. Through the addition of new talent and strategies, we have seen improved results in our census contributing positively toward our strategic plan. We still have a steep climb, but we are optimistic we will see growth in FY23 as well as improved performance in key areas. 

As the year draws to a close, the Board of Directors and the Senior Management Team would like to extend best wishes for the holiday season and the new year. We recognize the selflessness that our team and partners put in day after day to support this incredible mission. This year was sprinkled with prestigious awards, expansion of new jobs in new areas/new states/with new customers along with restructuring to better serve our clients. We look forward to 2023 to create more incredible impacts. On the left is a snapshot of our achievements over the last fiscal year.

Happy Holidays on behalf of Senior Leaders and the Board Directors. To our staff and supporters, we thank you for your commitment to our mission and wish you and your families a wonderful Holiday Season and Happy New Year.  

Written By: Charlotte Hammond, President & CEO of Challenge Unlimited, Inc.

Click here to view the Complete 2022 Annual Report. 

Advocacy Alert!! Contact Your Politicians Now!

Tuesday, December 27th, 2022

Getting Legislative Leadership in Support of I/DD Supplemental

December 28, 2022 – As many folks return from time off with family and friends from the Holidays, we want to remind you we have a narrow window to advocate before January 4th for a critical investment in our I/DD workforce.  We have done an amazing job building support within the legislature, but we need to make sure legislative leaders are working on your behalf!

We’re making serious progress but we need to use this week to ask our legislators to tell their leadership to include the $56 million into supplemental legislation to pass during the upcoming lame duck session.  That’s it! A simple message but a crucially important message.  We want to make sure legislative leaders know there is widespread bipartisan support and they need to include this ask in legislative work during the lame duck session.

Please take the link below to get a quick message in to your legislators!

Take Action!

54 Managers Complete Emotional Intelligence Training

Monday, November 21st, 2022

What is emotional intelligence? The Harvard Business School states that emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as recognize and influence the emotions of those around you. The term was first coined in 1990 by researchers John Mayer and Peter Salovey but was later popularized by psychologist Daniel Goleman. More than a decade ago, Goleman highlighted the importance of emotional intelligence in leadership, telling the Harvard Business Review, 

  “The most effective leaders are alike in one crucial way: They all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It is not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but…they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions.”  

Emotional intelligence is so important to our mission and the work that we do at Challenge Unlimited. Providing our clients, staff, and residents with the services they need and creating a culture where everyone can thrive requires empathy, time, and commitment; to foster this culture, fifty-four managers at Challenge Unlimited, and affiliate companies, participated in the BlueEQ Leading with Emotional Intelligence training program. This is an applicable, comprehensive, and powerful emotional intelligence self-assessment for business impact. The content was designed by a team of industry experts, social and behavioral scientists. The training program launched in the fall of 2021 and managers participated in workshops, coaching, and consulting activity for 12 months. We are happy to say that on November 5th all 54 managers completed their emotional intelligence training.  

Michelle Matsche, Director of Training and Development, and Erin Sutton, Learning Specialist, are certified BlueEQ facilitators who helped to guide participants through the whole methodology of assessing their current state of emotional intelligence and identified areas of improvement. Participants created, and executed a personal development plan, participated in monthly development opportunities, and then took a re-assessment to measure progress made during the program. Matsche said she is “so proud of our managerial team who made a concerted effort to increase their own emotional intelligence over the last year, with the goal of creating a safer, more inclusive culture for the teams they lead. This type of influence doesn’t happen overnight, and our team is in it for the long haul.”

BlueEQ workshops are designed with rigorous skill-building exercises to increase self-awareness, self-regard, self-control, social perception, and social effectiveness. The highly interactive workshops provide leaders and managers with the interpersonal tools they need to create a psychologically safe zone in the workplace — and the innovation that comes with it. 

Specifically, graduates of this program:  

  • Radically improve their emotional intelligence. 
  • Foster psychological safety with leaders and teams.
  • Expand self-awareness and social effectiveness.
  • Create sustainable behavioral change.
  • Become more promotable and drive business impact. 

We are glad that our managers chose to participate in this program and proud of their dedicated commitment to improving their leadership skills. It required a lot of self-reflection, vulnerable conversation, collaboration, and time!  

Here’s to increasing emotional intelligence, and intentionally creating psychologically safe work environments! 

Challenge Unlimited celebrates National Apprenticeship Week

Monday, November 14th, 2022

November 14th thru November 20th

Today is the 85th Anniversary of the National Apprenticeship Act and all week long we will be celebrating the U.S. Department of Labor’s eighth annual National Apprenticeship Week (NAW). NAW was established by the U.S. Department of Labor to celebrate the significant impact Registered Apprenticeship programs have had in re-building our economy, advancing racial and gender equity, building a pipeline to good, quality jobs, and supporting underserved communities. Hundreds of NAW events and activities will be taking place all over the country, to include open houses, skill competitions, community forums, apprentice graduations, business open houses, high school and college career fairs, apprenticeship signing days, industry roundtable events, diversity and inclusion dialogues, and more.  

“Registered Apprenticeship is a proven way for community members to obtain pathways to secure careers in many fields,” said Charlotte Hammond. “We are proud to support National Apprenticeship Week and to showcase the impact apprenticeships have on building the workforce in this country.”  

Last month we hosted our Department of Labor Apprenticeship Graduation Ceremony to celebrate our Grounds and Custodial Apprenticeship Programs. To view the full ceremony and learn more about the history of our apprenticeship program visit our blog.  

About National Apprenticeship Week National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) is a nationwide celebration that offers established by the U.S. Department of Labor to bring together leading business, labor, education, apprentices, and other critical partners to showcase the impact Registered Apprenticeship programs have on building the American workforce, as well as highlight the successes and value of Registered Apprenticeship for re-building our economy, advancing racial and gender equity, building a pipeline to good, quality jobs, and supporting underserved communities. Registered Apprenticeships provide the opportunity to assist and propel individuals who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality by allowing apprentices to earn while they learn and providing a pathway to well-paying careers.  

NAW gives employers, including sponsors and providers, the opportunity to showcase their programs, facilities, and apprentices so that career seekers can learn more about the benefits of Registered Apprenticeship and the programs that are available in their communities. During NAW events, apprentices have a platform to share their apprenticeship experience and how it has transformed their lives. For more information visit 

In honor of all who serve we celebrate Veteran’s Day.

Friday, November 11th, 2022

Veterans Day, November 11, is a remembrance set aside to honor those who have defended our country in peace and in war. Veterans serve with unwavering commitment to protecting our nation, many times at a great personal sacrifice to themselves and their families. In recognition of this observance, Challenge Unlimited honors, and thanks all veterans for their service. 

President Biden’s proclamation honoring Veterans Day states: 

“Today, we honor generations of patriots who have earned the title of “American veteran” — a badge of courage that unites the finest group of former service members the world has ever known. With their selfless sacrifice, our Armed Forces have forged and defended the very idea of America — a promise of freedom and equality, democracy and justice, possibility, and hope. We owe them an incredible debt that can never be fully repaid.” 

We asked our own Vice President of Operations and Service Member James Porter why he was called to military service and what Veteran’s Day means to him. Read James’s candid and heartfelt response below: 

“I am responsible for the day-to-day operations of a 6,500 Soldier formation. I have roughly 100 full time civilians and Soldiers who manage those operations and I am responsible for providing them guidance and direction. 

The first thing that comes to mind for me is the significance of Veterans Day. On the 11th hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the Japanese signed an armistice ending World War I. The timing of the ceremony and the significance of the event itself are forever remembered in the history books. 

I think of the fact that so many men and boys left their homes, then as we do now, to fight a war/s that we often do not understand the reasons or meaning as to why we fight. We only understand that our mission and our commitment is to protect our country and this world from tyranny.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to                               do nothing”            John Stuart Mill 

I stop, pray and I think of the sacrifice of these men. So many never had the chance to marry, become fathers or live their dreams because they made the ultimate sacrifice in service of their country. And I am thankful for those who survived the horrific events of war and who still sacrificed so that I and others could serve in better circumstances. 

I think of my father, James Porter, and father-n-law, Jack Verner, who were both wounded, shot, in Vietnam. These two African American men willingly sacrificed to ensure that I and others could not only serve, but have a life filled with opportunities that they themselves were not able to experience. 

I can go on and on about Veterans Day. There is so much to take in during the day. I honor those who came before me by taking time on that day to speak with the veterans in my life who have made a profound impact on my accomplishments and achievements.” 

James was an active duty service member from 1993  to 1997 and currently serves as the Chief of Staff, 311TH Expeditionary Sustainment Command for the United States Army Reserves out of Los Angeles, California.

Thank you to James and all our military service members who have served and continue to serve our country, as well as those who lost their lives in the name of freedom. We salute you! We support you! And We will always be grateful..

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