Community Relations

Challenge Unlimited Celebrates Differences During Autism Acceptance Month

Monday, April 15th, 2024

The Alton-based organization helps disabled job-seekers connect with meaningful employment throughout the Riverbend region. Challenge Unlimited is pushing people to think about inclusivity and acceptance all year long, not just during April.

“I think by this time, if you don’t realize autism spectrum disorder exists, you must be living under a rock,” said Stephanie Schrage, Challenge Unlimited marketing manager. “One in 36 kids is diagnosed with this in this country, so it’s a common thing for parents and communities to have to just realize that everybody’s different. And that’s really the theme this month, celebrating differences.”

Schrage and Toni, a volunteer with Challenge Unlimited and parent to a 12-year-old daughter on the autism spectrum, both note the importance of acknowledging and accommodating differences. They point out that people with autism might need different tools, but they have the same interests, challenges and successes as neurotypical people do. Additionally, everybody on the spectrum has their own experience.

“Autism is not a linear diagnosis. It is very much a color wheel, and every person with autism doesn’t have the same colors,” Toni explained. “Every diagnosis is different. Every situation is unique. And everyone has unique abilities…It’s not about them changing for society. It is about society allowing them to be themselves.”

Toni knows that it can feel isolating to be a parent of a child with special needs, just like it can be isolating to be neurodivergent in a society built for neurotypical people. This is partly why she encourages inclusion. She said she takes her daughter with her everywhere, from church to El Monstero concerts.

The isolation is also why she advocates for Challenge Unlimited. While the organization is geared towards adults, Toni noted that it’s a good idea to research and become involved in groups like this when your children are still young. She said that because of Challenge Unlimited, she knows her daughter will be cared for and supported even after Toni can no longer advocate for her.

“Parents, I think, feel very alone, so Challenge lets you know there are people living in this world that care about the future of other people,” she said. “What happens to our children who need advocacy after our ability to help them? That’s where places like Challenge step in. When you don’t know that something like Challenge exists, then you have to go, ‘What’s going to happen to them? Will they ever have a future?’ And places like Challenge provide a future.”

While Challenge Unlimited focuses on employment services and community housing, they also support people with disabilities and their loved ones through all of life’s challenges. Schrage noted that approximately 60% of autistic adults are unemployed or underemployed, and Challenge Unlimited aims to decrease this number through support, job-carving services, vocational training and other resources.

Schrage and Toni hope people will think differently about autism as Autism Acceptance Month continues. They encourage people to be accepting of the tools that others need to feel secure and happy, and they push for inclusivity in all events, venues and conversations.

“We’ve always kind of put a standard on people that you have to think and learn a certain way. And I think what autism acceptance is about is realizing that we really are all different, we all learn differently, we all have different abilities,” Schrage added. “We make assumptions, and that’s part of the theme with acceptance. We’ve learned a lot about autism spectrum disorder in the last 20 years, but we have a lot more to learn.”

Written by Sydney Sinks

Coverage provided by

Autism Acceptance Week: Sensory Friendly Events!!

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2024

As Autism Acceptance Week kicks off, communities and groups worldwide are getting ready with a variety of fun, welcoming, and informative activities.

These activities celebrate the autism spectrum’s diversity and offer learning, connecting, and personal growth opportunities. This blog post features three standout events. They are perfect for anyone interested in the autism community, whether you’re directly affected, a family member, an educator, or just a supporter. The following online and in-person events are set to provide valuable experiences for all who attend.

Dr. Temple Grandin: The Hidden Gifts of Visual Thinkers

First on our list is an inspiring lecture by Dr. Temple Grandin, one of the most accomplished and well-known adults with autism in the world. Hosted by the Hayner Public Library District, this event promises to shed light on “The Hidden Gifts of Visual Thinkers.” Dr. Grandin, a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University, has made groundbreaking contributions to autism advocacy and animal behavior research. Her ability to see the world differently has revolutionized our approach to both fields. Attendees will gain insight into how thinking in pictures can be a tremendous asset and explore the unique talents that individuals on the spectrum can bring to our communities and workplaces.

Event details and registration can be found on the Hayner Library website. Given Dr. Grandin’s influence and the invaluable perspectives she offers, this is an event you won’t want to miss.

Animals Aglow at the Saint Louis Zoo

You can also check out “Animals Aglow,” a visually stunning event hosted by the Saint Louis Zoo. This family-friendly exhibit transforms the zoo into an illuminated wonderland, featuring larger-than-life animal lanterns that guide you through an enchanting journey. Designed with sensory sensitivities in mind, this event offers a mesmerizing experience that can be enjoyed by individuals of all ages, including those on the autism spectrum. The zoo’s commitment to inclusivity and accessibility makes “Animals Aglow” a perfect outing for Autism Acceptance Week, combining the beauty of nature with the magic of light art.

For more information about event dates and tickets, visit the Saint Louis Zoo’s official website.





Low Sensory Sundays at Six Flags St. Louis – Starting April 7th

Whether you are a kid or just a kid at heart, don’t miss “Low Sensory Sundays” at Six Flags St. Louis, starting April 7th. These special days are made with sensory sensitivities in mind, adjusting lights and sounds for a more comfortable experience. Six Flags is committed to ensuring that everyone can enjoy their attractions, and it is making a great effort to welcome guests on the autism spectrum.

For more information, visit the Six Flags St. Louis website, which details Low Sensory Sundays, including dates and accommodations.

Other Ways to Support

In addition to attending these events, there are several ways you can contribute to the cause and support autism acceptance:

  1. Educate Yourself and Others: Learn more about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and share your knowledge to help foster understanding and acceptance.
  2. Volunteer: Give your time to organizations that support individuals with autism, whether it’s during Autism Acceptance Week or any time of year.
  3. Donate: Consider donating to programs and research initiatives dedicated to improving the lives of those affected by autism.
  4. Advocate: Raise awareness and advocate for policies that support the rights and needs of the autism community.
  5. Support Local Programs: Engage with and support local autism programs and services—they are often on the front lines of providing direct support and resources.
  6. Social Media Engagement: Use your online platforms to promote autism acceptance, share information about events, and engage with initiatives like #StrengthInDiversity and #ItsOkToBeDifferent.

Join the Celebration

Autism Acceptance Week is more than just a series of events; it’s a movement towards understanding, inclusion, and celebration of the diverse spectrum of human experience. By participating in events like these, we can all contribute to a more accepting and supportive society.

Whether you’re learning from Dr. Temple Grandin’s insights, marveling at the luminous displays at the Saint Louis Zoo, or enjoying the thrills of Six Flags with a sensory-friendly twist, you’re participating in a global celebration of autism acceptance.

Let’s come together to support, learn from, and celebrate the autism community, not just during Autism Acceptance Week but every day.

Support Our Programs

Remember that supporting our programs is one of the most direct ways to contribute. They are tailored to empower autistic individuals, providing them with opportunities to succeed at achieving their goals. You’re positively impacting someone’s life and contributing to a more inclusive community by getting involved with our programs. Contact us to find out how you can join our mission at Challenge Unlimited.

Click Here to Make A Donation to our Autism Acceptance Campaign!

Manager of the Year, Challenge Unlimited Vice President of Finance is cashing in on impact

Friday, January 26th, 2024
Kelley Young pictured here with her award
Kelley Young pictured here with her award

Kelley Young’s recent Manager of the Year award is not just a title; it’s a testament to her exceptional leadership and innovative approach at Challenge Unlimited. As Vice President of Finance, Kelley has revitalized our financial framework and demonstrated the critical role of compassionate and strategic leadership in the success of non-profit social enterprise.

Strategic Financial Management in For Impact Organizations

Kelley has been instrumental in redefining our financial strategy, a critical component in the non-profit sector. Her expertise has significantly boosted our operational efficiency and financial stability, ensuring optimal use of resources towards our mission.

The Unsung Heroes: Finance Department Administrators

Kelley’s role transcends traditional financial management, spotlighting the often overlooked yet essential administrative tasks.

Elevating Strategic Administration: Effective administration is the cornerstone of any successful non-profit. Kelley’s strategic alignment of administrative functions, including budgeting and planning, has been pivotal in maintaining our focus on organizational goals.

The Art of Balancing Non-Profit Finances: Kelley’s adeptness at managing finances is a testament to her ability to balance practicality and passion, ensuring our financial decisions support and enhance our mission’s impact.

Leadership that Nurtures and Inspires

Kelley & Her Team Setting Up Bingo for our Alton Skills Training Clients

Kelley’s leadership style blends empathy, patience, and strategic insight. She extends her role beyond managing, acting as a mentor who fosters an environment conducive to learning and growth.

Empowering Team Growth: Recognizing and nurturing individual potential within the team has been a critical aspect of Kelley’s leadership, enhancing our collective capabilities and fostering a culture of trust and open communication.

Extending Influence Beyond Financials

Terry posing for a Photo Op at BINGO!

Kelley’s contributions are not confined to the office. Her active engagement in community initiatives, such as implementing financial literacy training provided by her team to help individuals develop the skills needed to live more independently showcases her comprehensive leadership approach and commitment to our mission.

A Tribute to Non-Profit Administration Leaders

The Manager of the Year award is a testament to the importance of those handling critical and often underappreciated tasks in social enterprise administration. Kelley Young epitomizes this with her strategic financial management and compassionate leadership. Congratulations, Kelley, on this richly deserved honor. Your relentless efforts and visionary approach continue to contribute to our organization’s success.

Celebrating Leadership and Community Service

Monday, January 22nd, 2024

Recognizing a Trailblazer: Charlotte Hammond Receives the Martin Luther King Drum Major Award 

Charlotte Hammond, the CEO of Challenge Unlimited, has recently been honored with the prestigious Martin Luther King Drum Major Award. This accolade, presented by the St. Louis Urban League, is not just a recognition of her professional accomplishments but a testament to her dedication to fostering an inclusive and equitable community. Read more about the event, speakers, and honorees here.

A New Chapter: Appointment to the City of St. Louis Workforce Development Board

Further cementing her role as a community leader, Hammond is set to be sworn in on January 17th to the City of St. Louis Workforce Development Board, (WDB). This significant appointment reflects her deep commitment to workforce development and her expertise in creating pathways for employment and training. 

The Impact of the WDB and SLATE in St. Louis 

The WDB, as the governing entity, plays a crucial role in overseeing the programs implemented by the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE). These initiatives are vital for the economic development of St. Louis, providing essential support to job seekers and businesses. Through adult and youth programs, the WDB and SLATE focus on upgrading basic and occupational skills, thereby enhancing the workforce’s overall capabilities. 

A Diverse and Committed Board 

The WDB is composed of a minimum of twenty-three volunteer citizens appointed by the Mayor. This diverse group includes representatives from local businesses, public and community-based agencies, and labor organizations. Their collective efforts ensure that the workforce development programs are aligned with the city’s needs and are effectively implemented. 

A Visionary Leader 

Charlotte Hammond’s journey is one of inspiring leadership and unwavering commitment to community service. Her achievements, recognized by the Martin Luther King Drum Major Award and her appointment to the WDB, highlight her exceptional ability to lead, innovate, and uplift the community. In her new role with the WDB, her participation will surely enhance employment opportunities for the citizens of St. Louis, focusing on bringing these opportunities to underserved communities and opening new avenues for workforce development and growth in the city.

Charlotte’s story is a powerful reminder of one individual’s impact on a community. Her leadership at Challenge Unlimited and her involvement with the WDB showcase a career dedicated to creating opportunities and fostering growth. As St. Louis looks forward, it does so with a remarkable leader among its ranks, ready to drive change and make a lasting difference.

About Challenge Unlimited 

For over 60 years, Challenge Unlimited has operated as a social enterprise committed to serving individuals with disabilities while earning a reputation as a trusted business partner to private commercial companies and federal and state government agencies. As an accredited Community Rehabilitation Program (CRP) provider, Challenge Unlimited fulfills its mission through employment programs and services, skills training centers, and community-integrated living options.  

For media inquiries, please contact:
Stephanie Schrage, Marketing Manager


Grounded in Excellence: Project Manager’s Leadership is Rooted in Landscape Artistry

Thursday, January 18th, 2024

A Leader Who Soars Above: Nancy Nekola’s Exemplary Role in Military Project Management

Leaders like Nancy Nekola stand out in the dynamic realm of project management, especially within the challenging environment of a military base. As a shining example of excellence at an Air Force Base, Nancy’s Manager of the Year award at Challenge Unlimited is not just a professional accolade but a tribute to her ability to lead with distinction in a military setting.

Nancy is shown holding her award.
Nancy Nekola, Operations, Groundskeeping, Project Manager, pictured here with her Award.

The Journey of Excellence: Serving Nation and Nature

Nancy’s evolution from Project Manager to PM2 and a subject matter expert in grounds management at the Air Force Base is a narrative of exceptional commitment. Her role transcends mere administrative duties, encapsulating a profound dedication to the base’s natural environment and the broader mission of military excellence.

Creating a Legacy Amidst the Runways

In a setting as pivotal as an Air Force Base, Nancy’s innovation and leadership in developing a comprehensive grounds training manual enhances the base’s operational efficiency and contributes significantly to the morale and aesthetic of this critical military environment. Her mentorship extends beyond the greenery, impacting other managers and shaping a work culture that resonates with the values of the armed forces.

Winning Hearts and Minds Under the Military Sky

Nancy’s remarkable ability to connect and inspire came to the forefront during a key presentation at a new contract location at another base. Her authentic approach, rooted in deep expertise and respect for the military ethos, transformed skepticism into trust, exemplifying the power of effective civilian-military collaboration.

Beyond the Call of Duty: A Commitment to Service and Soil

Nancy’s unwavering dedication shines through in her meticulous work on the Hurlburt grounds contract, paralleled with her ongoing responsibilities at SAFB Grounds, DISA, and DITCO contracts. Her work ethic mirrors her disciplined commitment to military service, reinforcing her role as a vital civilian contributor to the base’s operations.

Grounds team members gathered around, and Director of Operations Michael Whitehead presented Nancy with the Award in December 2023. 

A Leader Who Listens: Commanding Respect through Empathy

Nancy’s leadership style, marked by thoughtful decision-making and inclusive communication, aligns seamlessly with the collaborative spirit essential in military settings. Her approach fosters a sense of community and shared purpose, vital in supporting and enhancing the lives of those who serve.

Championing Challenges: Growing Together on Military Grounds

As a subject matter expert in groundskeeping, Nancy raises the bar of expertise and ensures that her team is equally informed and skilled. This commitment to collective growth and knowledge sharing reflects the collaborative and innovative spirit encouraged within military communities.

The Essence of a True Leader: Serving with Honor and Integrity

Her alignment with military values further elevates Nancy’s blend of intelligence, leadership, decisiveness, and responsibility. Her integrity, dedication, and commitment resonate deeply within the context of her service at the Air Force Base, reinforcing her status as a role model for civilian-military cooperation.

A Salute to Nancy Nekola’s Leadership in Military Service

Supporting Nancy Nekola for the Challenge Unlimited Manager of the Year Award is more than just recognizing a talented manager; it’s about acknowledging her unique contribution to serving individuals with disabilities and the Air Force community. Her work, deeply rooted in military efficiency and excellence principles, reflects a synergy of civilian expertise and military values. Nancy is not just a leader but a pivotal figure who inspires both on and off the military grounds, making her an exceptional candidate for this prestigious award. Her achievements serve as an inspiration, proving that dedication, expertise, and understanding of the military ethos can create a lasting impact in the intertwined worlds of disability employment, civilian service, and military excellence.

Agency for Community Transit (ACT) Awards $100,000 Grant to Challenge Unlimited

Thursday, January 11th, 2024

Expanded Transportation Services Supporting Individuals with Disabilities in Madison County 

Edwardsville, Illinois The Agency for Community Transit (ACT) Board of Directors has recently approved a substantial grant of $100,000 to the leading provider of disability services in the Madison County area, Challenge Unlimited (CU). These grant funds provided by the ACT Community Action Grants Program will be dedicated to operations and maintenance costs for transportation services provided to individuals with disabilities in the region. 

Challenge Unlimited is renowned for its outstanding services, catering to individuals aged 18 and older facing disabilities. Their extensive fleet of vehicles is specially designed to facilitate the attendance of individuals in programs focused on developing life skills and enhancing independence levels. 

“We are thrilled to receive this generous grant from the Agency for Community Transit,” said Susan Wild, Director at Challenge Unlimited. “The funding will enable us to continue our mission of providing dignified and inclusive opportunities for individuals with disabilities, empowering them to lead fulfilling lives.” 

Challenge Unlimited’s ADA-compliant vehicles are equipped with chair lifts and other essential features and ensure safe and convenient transportation for over 70 individuals in the Madison County area. These vehicles travel over 600 miles daily, offering door-to-door transportation services from Monday to Friday. 

The programs offered by Challenge Unlimited encompass a variety of settings, including community-based recreation experiences, pre-vocational training, career exploration, life-skills building, health and wellness activities, and volunteer opportunities at local organizations. These initiatives aim to support the growth and well-being of individuals with disabilities, fostering a sense of independence and self-sufficiency. 

“With the support of this grant, we will be able to expand our reach and continue providing crucial services to those in need,” added Susan Wild. “We are committed to improving the lives of our community members and helping them achieve their full potential.” 

The ACT Community Action Grants Program grant reaffirms Challenge Unlimited’s dedication to ensuring that every individual can live a dignified life of well-being, independence, and inclusion. Through this funding, they can positively impact the lives of even more individuals in the Madison County area.

For further information about the services offered by Challenge Unlimited or to inquire about enrollment, interested parties are encouraged to contact Director Susan Wild at or call 618.465.0044 ext. 1144.  

About Challenge Unlimited 

For over 60 years, Challenge Unlimited has operated as a social enterprise committed to serving individuals with disabilities while earning a reputation as a trusted business partner to private commercial companies and federal and state government agencies. As an accredited Community Rehabilitation Program (CRP) provider, Challenge Unlimited fulfills its mission through employment programs and services, skills training centers, and community-integrated living options. For more information, please visit    

For media inquiries, please contact:
Stephanie Schrage

Local Artist Finds a Home for the Holidays: Tunstell Griffin’s Inspirational Journey 

Monday, December 11th, 2023

Picture yourself in your sixties, having never known the warmth of a place to call your own. A haven to express your true self, a retreat after a hectic workday, a space to unwind, cook for friends, and host gatherings. Now, imagine a heartening twist of fate – Tunstell Griffin, a local artist, and Residential Options Celebrity, not only discovered a home for his artistry but also a place to call his own, just in time for the holidays. 

His story starts out with grief, the loss of his parents and younger sister at an early age, and unfortunately like many young black men lacking a support system, follows with an incarceration. Tunstell’s pursuit has been intertwined with his life at Residential Options, a local non-profit and affiliate of Challenge Unlimited, since December 2006. Tunstell received over 16 years of invaluable support. This program became the catalyst for his growth, offering services that encompassed financial education, medical guidance, and the essential skills needed for independent living. His journey, marked by unwavering dedication to his craft and triumph over personal challenges, recently reached a milestone as he was finally ready to move into his own apartment. 

For the past 16 years, Tunstell’s artistic pursuit has been interwoven with his life at Residential Options. This program became the catalyst for Tunstell’s growth, providing invaluable support in financial education, medical guidance, and the essential skills for independent living. 

About a year ago, Tunstell, guided by his treatment team, acknowledged the strides he had taken and declared himself near graduation from the program. During his discharge meeting, emotions soared as Tunstell, with tears in his eyes, expressed profound gratitude. “I appreciate everything ya’ll have done for me; it’s because of ya’ll that I got this apartment,” he said. 

Not long ago, Tunstell grappled with uncertainties about living independently. Yet, with the support of Residential Options’ staff, he overcame self-doubt. What once was fear has transformed into confidence and pride as he steps into this new phase of life. 

While a hint of nervousness lingers about the unknown, Tunstell is resolute and confident in his newfound independence. He recognizes that Residential Options will always be a part of his journey, maintaining connections with former housemates and eagerly planning to attend holiday gatherings. 

As Tunstell settles into his new home, he remains committed to his artistic passion, continuing to create and paint. Looking ahead, he is eager to find a new job near his home, showcasing his resilience and determination. 

Tunstell holds a Home Sweet Home sign that he recieved as a gift from Residential Options Staff
Tunstell holds a Home Sweet Home sign that he received as a gift from Residential Options Staff

Tunstell’s story is not merely one of artistic triumph; it is also a testament to the transformative impact of support programs in our community. This holiday season, as Tunstell infuses his new space with creativity and determination, his story stands as an inspiration for others, emphasizing the strength found in pursuing one’s passions and the profound significance of having a place to call home. 

“EmployAbility” – Disability Employment, a largely untapped and underutilized workforce

Wednesday, November 1st, 2023

Exclusive Premiere!!

Challenge Unlimited has been a leader in prioritizing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the workforce for over 60 years. As an AbilityOne provider we are committed to providing quality services in a safe environment for individuals of all abilities.

Watch the video to see what Tim, Bobby & Tyler have to say about working at Challenge Unlimited.

Looking to expand your workforce and prioritize DEI?

Contact us today to join the EmployAbility Initiative.

AbilityOne Film COMING November 8th!!

Tim is one of a few employees that were recently interviewed for our short film highlighting the success of our Challenge Unlimited  teams.

⭐Our “EmployAbility” Video Premieres November 8th⭐ 📽

Follow us on social media or sign up for our newsletter to hear the stories highlighting the success of these amazing individuals working on our AbilityOne Contracts at Scott Air Force Base. You won’t want to miss it!

Special thanks to their Public Affairs Department for working with us on base so we could share these amazing stories.

From the Heartland to Capitol Hill

Wednesday, October 25th, 2023
♪ “I’m goin’ to Jackson, but I’m not gonna mess around.” ♪

Johnny Cash’s iconic words resonate with a different journey today – the journey towards creating a brighter future for disability employment. In Mississippi, 256,889 individuals ages 18 to 64 identify as having a disability, and 64% of those individuals are unemployed. (Mississippi By The Numbers)

Advocating for Change from Jackson to D.C.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and GSA Jackson team member Jeffie Walker is not a statistic. He exemplifies the transformative power of inclusion and the strides made in the workforce, but we have a long way to go. He can assure you that individuals with disabilities are not “messing around” but are seizing their rightful place in the world of employment, and his journey is a testament to his determination and resilience in the face of adversity.

Jeffie’s Story

Mr. Jeffie Walker is a self-proclaimed “huge sports fan” and aspires to own his own home so that he can have the “man cave” of his dreams. His story is just one example of how individuals with disabilities can overcome challenges to achieve outstanding success, but the path was not without its obstacles.

After earning a Mass Communications degree from Jackson State University, Jeffie encountered difficulties securing employment due to his disability. However, he refused to be disheartened and, with the unwavering support of his family, friends, and counselors, embarked on a new journey within the AbilityOne Program.

He began as a janitor in the McCoy Federal building in downtown Jackson, Mississippi. Over eight years in this role, Mr. Walker displayed unparalleled dedication and work ethic, becoming an integral part of his workplace. However, uncertainty loomed when the company he worked for lost the contract.

A Chance to Shine

During this critical period, Challenge Unlimited recognized Mr. Walker’s exceptional qualities and not only retained him on the team but was promoted to the building’s sole Floor Care Technician. This marked a significant milestone, his first-ever promotion, and an accompanying raise.

Among his numerous accomplishments within the AbilityOne Program, Mr. Walker is incredibly proud of his promotion. This achievement highlights his dedication and showcases his potential for growth. Jeffie’s success led him to be selected to represent his company and coworkers in Washington, D.C., at the SourceAmerica Grassroots Advocacy Conference, showcasing his ability to advocate for the program’s mission and the contributions of individuals like him. He’s funny, charismatic, and a delight to be around.


He was nominated by his supervisors for the SourceAmerica William M. Usdane Award, which serves as a powerful reminder that individuals with disabilities are invaluable assets to the workforce and can thrive when given the opportunity. This nomination is more than just a recognition of his achievements; it’s a beacon of hope for others facing similar challenges.

While the award’s winner has yet to be selected, Jeffie is already a winner in our book. He is committed to his job, and his dedication to advocating for himself and others is exemplary. “To be honest, I think people with disabilities can do just as well or even better jobs if given support and guidance,” said Walker. He exemplifies the transformative power of determination, hard work, and the impact of a supportive work environment. We firmly believe that Mr. Walker deserves to be celebrated for his achievements. Jeffie can inspire countless others to overcome obstacles and pursue their dreams. He is proof that you can achieve anything you put your mind to.

Click below to listen to Jeffie’s speech.










Challenge Unlimited and Knights of Columbus Join Forces to Support Individuals with Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities

Monday, September 25th, 2023
Individuals are pictured in from of a Blue banner with Challenge Unlimited Logo
Pictured from left to right: John Becker, CU Vice President of Programs, Mark Droste, Knights or Columbus Alton Council 460, Andy Esterer, Executive Vice President of Finance

The Knights of Columbus annually hosts their “Tootsie Roll” Drive fundraiser. They organize and coordinate the event and distribute the funds raised to provide much needed support to local organizations who provide services and quality-of-life programming for people living with intellectual  and developmental disabilities.

This is a statewide fundraiser that has been going on for many years and it also helps to raise awareness, advocacy, the importance of diversity and inclusion for everyone.  Each year, the staff and clients from Challenge Unlimited, and other organizations volunteer to support the event and receive a portion of the funds.

Partnerships with local organizations like the Knights of Columbus Council 460, Illinois are so important to our mission. Today representative, Mark Droste, stopped in and presented a check from the 2022 fundraiser to our Executive Vice President of Finance, Andy Esterer and Vice President of Programs, John Becker.

We want to express our sincere gratitude to the Knights for your generous donation of $3,500. These funds will be used to support our programming for the 2023-2024 Fiscal Year to increase the opportunities we can provide for the individuals that we serve.

Striking Down Stereotypes: The Impact of Special Olympics Bowling

Tuesday, September 19th, 2023

This past weekend residents, from our Residential Options homes participated in the Special Olympics Bowling, Region J Competition at St. Clair Bowl, in Fairview Heights, Illinois. A great time was had by all and many of the competitors from Residential Options received gold metals. We are so proud of our team and we want everyone to join us in celebrating their success!

Resident Jason, took home a Gold Metal for the Men’s Singles and residents Pamela, Rhonda and Darlene placed 1st and received gold metals for the women’s ramp and women’s singles competition.

In a world that often focuses on differences, Special Olympics Bowling stands as a powerful testament to the enduring human spirit. It is not just a sport but a platform that celebrates the abilities and accomplishments of individuals with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics Bowling has transcended barriers, shattered stereotypes, and fostered a sense of inclusion that extends far beyond the lanes. For Residential Options  we have seen first hand the profound impact of Special Olympics Bowling and how it is changing lives, one strike at a time.

The Power of Inclusion

Pictured above are members of our Residential Options Special Olympics Bowling Team.

One of the most significant impacts of Special Olympics Bowling is the sense of inclusion it creates. Historically, individuals with intellectual disabilities have faced social isolation and discrimination. The Special Olympics movement has been instrumental in challenging these norms. Through bowling, our residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities have found a community that welcomes them with open arms, embracing their unique abilities.

Inclusion is more than just a buzzword; it’s a fundamental human right. Special Olympics Bowling provides a platform for these athletes to showcase their talents and abilities, challenging the stereotypes that have long plagued the disability community. In doing so, it sends a powerful message that everyone deserves respect, dignity, and the chance to participate in sports.

Building Confidence and Self-Esteem

Special Olympics Bowling goes beyond physical competition; it is a powerful tool for building confidence and self-esteem. For many athletes, the opportunity to participate in organized sports is a transformative experience. As they improve their bowling skills and achieve personal bests, they gain a profound sense of accomplishment and self-worth.

The impact on an individual’s self-esteem can be life-changing. It extends beyond the bowling alley, influencing their interactions at school, work, and within their families. It teaches athletes that they are capable of achieving their goals, and building diverse relationships regardless of their abilities or disabilities.

Fostering Social Bonds and Support Networks

Special Olympics Volunteer observes as Residential Options athlete bowls a STRIKE!!

The friendships and support networks formed through Special Olympics Bowling are invaluable. Athletes, coaches, and families come together to create a tight-knit community that transcends the sport itself. These bonds provide emotional support and a sense of belonging, enhancing the overall quality of life for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

The families of athletes often find solace and a sense of camaraderie among others who share similar experiences. Coaches and volunteers are inspired by the dedication and resilience of the athletes, deepening their commitment to the Special Olympics movement.

Raising Awareness and Challenging Stereotypes

The Special Olympics is not just about sports; it is a movement that challenges societal stereotypes and misconceptions about individuals with disabilities. By showcasing the talents and abilities of these athletes, it highlights the importance of inclusion and diversity. It serves as a reminder that we should value individuals for their unique qualities and abilities, rather than making assumptions based on their disabilities, shifting the focus from what someone’s abilities might typically prevent them from doing to embracing their strengths and highlighting their successes.

Special Olympics Bowling is more than just a sport; it’s a life-changing experience for athletes, families, and communities. It fosters inclusion, builds confidence, promotes health and wellness, and challenges stereotypes. It’s a reminder that every individual, regardless of their abilities, deserves the opportunity to shine.

As we celebrate the success of our residents we want to raise awareness around the impact of Special Olympics Bowling, and also reflect on the broader message it sends. Inclusion, acceptance, and respect for all are values worth championing. Through the power of this sport, we can strive for a more inclusive and compassionate world, where every individual has the chance to reach their full potential, both on and off the bowling alley.

Special Olympics Color Guard

Paul & Louise Baker DSP of the year 2023 Award Winner: Keith Bond

Sunday, September 17th, 2023
Keith Bond & Sandy Curran, daughter of Paul and Louise Baker
Paul & Louise Baker DSP of the year 2023 Award Winner: Keith Bond pictured with Sandy Curran, daughter of Paul & Louise Baker

In the realm of disability support services, champions are those individuals who go above and beyond to ensure that every person they support not only achieves their goals but also becomes an active and valued member of their community. Every year during DSP Recognition Week at Challenge Unlimited, affiliate program, Residential Options hosts an appreciation luncheon and award ceremony to recognize all of the dedicated DSP’s that support our residents and clients. For the last four years, thanks to the Baker Family, one such individual is presented with the Baker Award, in honor of Paul & Louise Baker, as DSP of the Year for their exceptional service to the residents in our homes. The support of the Baker Family enables us to present the winner with this well-deserved recognition.

This years Baker award was presented by Sandy Curran, daughter of Paul & Louise Baker, to Keith Bond. Keith has been a dedicated member of the team at Residential Options for the past four years. He stands out as a shining example of such a champion and through his unwavering commitment to person-centered care and community advocacy, Keith has made a profound impact on the lives of those he supports. He has shown residents, their families and his team that he is a reliable and dependable caregiver to the individuals in his residential home.

Promoting Person-Centered Care

One of the hallmarks of person-centered care is recognizing and respecting the unique needs and aspirations of each individual. Keith embodies this principle in his role at Ivy Chase. He serves as a primary male role model for the residents, fostering mutual respect between himself and the individuals he supports. When it comes to setting and achieving goals, Keith reminds them that they are adult men with responsibilities and empowers them by demonstrating the behaviors expected of responsible adults; helping them to achieve their potential and always setting an example through his own actions.

Community Engagement
Keith Bond pictured in a blue shirt looking over an upcoming calendar of events for his residents.
Keith Bond pictured looking over an upcoming calendar of events for his residents.

Keith plays a pivotal role in creating opportunities for the individuals he supports to actively participate in their community. Managing monthly barber shop appointments and organizing bi-weekly lunch outings may seem routine, but for some of the residents, it’s a significant feat. Keith’s presence provides a sense of security and guidance, especially for those who may experience tension or anxiety in community settings. Through his actions, he models appropriate behavior and ensures that community activities are enjoyable and accessible for all.

Nurturing Relationships

Beyond being a DSP (Direct Support Professional), Keith is a facilitator of relationships. Saturdays are bustling days at Ivy Chase, with barber shop visits, lunches, and family visits. Keith takes the initiative to juggle schedules to include family visits, demonstrating his commitment to supporting residents in maintaining connections with their loved ones. He maintains open communication with families, keeping them informed of drop-off times and coordinating visits among residents when possible. During the holidays, Keith takes the lead in reaching out to families to ensure that visits are well-coordinated, enhancing the residents’ sense of belonging.

Demonstrating Leadership

Keith’s leadership qualities shine through in his ability to build rapport and foster camaraderie among residents and staff. His deep understanding of the residents’ perspectives and communication styles makes him a go-to person for managing challenging behaviors and improving relationships. Keith’s knack for appealing to the residents as men and guiding them on how men should behave towards others has proven invaluable in building trust and unity within the home.

When Keith accepted the award, he displayed his genuine appreciation for the work he does from a sincere and heartfelt place of faith. He showed that he is a humble man who wants to serve and said when giving his acceptance speech that, “these are God’s children we are serving and God has placed us in their lives, that they might have a quality of life that is deserving of them.” He also recognized his team at Ivy Chase and Lynwood homes for helping to support these individuals. To give some additional perspective, Keith works a full time job as an administrator for the City of Belleville during the week and chooses his work as a DSP on the weekends in order to serve a mission. He embodies the definition of a true servant leader.

Keith’s dedication to person-centered care, community advocacy, and the compassion he shows for the individuals he cares for make him an inspiring example for all in the field of disability support services. Through his leadership and unwavering commitment, Keith has transformed the lives of those he supports, enabling them to not only meet their goals but also become active and valued members of their community. Keith is more than a DSP; he is a true champion of empowerment and inclusion.

DSP Recognition Week Logo from ANCHOR. Shows a yellow & blue ribbon with the text Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week September 10th - 16th, 2023

Remembering September 11th: A Spotlight on Disability

Monday, September 11th, 2023

On September 11, 2001, the world witnessed one of the most tragic events in modern history—the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. This day changed the course of our nation and had a profound impact on the lives of countless individuals. Our first responders and all who experienced this tragedy will never forget the events of that day and many have suffered from the trauma every since.

As we commemorate the 22nd anniversary of September 11th and honor them, it’s important to remember not only the lives lost and the heroes who emerged but also to spotlight an often-overlooked aspect of this tragedy—the experiences of individuals with disabilities. 

Disability in the Face of Disaster 

When we think of the events of September 11th, we often recall images of firefighters, police officers, and first responders rushing into burning buildings to save lives. These brave individuals undoubtedly played a crucial role in responding to the attacks and deserve to be recognized and honored for their bravery. However, we may not hear as much about the experiences of people with disabilities during this harrowing time. 

People with disabilities faced unique challenges and vulnerabilities on that fateful day. Here are a few aspects to consider: 

  • Evacuation Challenges: Many buildings and public spaces lacked adequate accessibility features for individuals with mobility impairments. This made evacuating the affected areas extremely difficult for those with mobility challenges. 
  • Communication Barriers: People with hearing impairments may have struggled to receive crucial information during the crisis. Emergency announcements and warnings were often communicated audibly, leaving individuals with hearing disabilities at a disadvantage. 
  • PTSD and Emotional Impact: The traumatic events of September 11th had a lasting impact on many people’s mental health. Individuals with pre-existing mental health conditions or those who developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may have faced additional hurdles in accessing the support and care they needed. 
  • Access to Emergency Services: People with disabilities may have faced difficulties in accessing emergency services due to communication barriers or transportation issues. 

Heroes Among Us 

Despite the challenges and barriers faced by individuals with disabilities on September 11th, there were also stories of resilience, strength, and heroism. Many people with disabilities demonstrated remarkable courage and resourcefulness during this crisis. Their stories remind us that disability does not define one’s abilities or capacity for bravery. 

Remembering and Honoring 

As we remember the events of September 11th, it’s important to honor the memory of all those affected, including those with disabilities. Here are some ways to do so: 

  • Share Stories: Share stories of individuals with disabilities who demonstrated extraordinary resilience and courage on that day. Highlight their accomplishments and contributions. 
  • Support Disability-Inclusive Initiatives: Advocate for and support initiatives that promote accessibility, inclusion, and emergency preparedness for people with disabilities in your community. 
  • Foster Understanding: Educate yourself and others about the unique challenges faced by individuals with disabilities during crises. Understanding leads to empathy and better support. 
  • Remember the Heroes: Pay tribute to the first responders, medical professionals, and volunteers who provided assistance to people with disabilities during and after the attacks. 

As we reflect on the events of September 11, 2001, let us remember that disability is not a barrier to heroism or resilience. It’s a day to honor all those who were affected by the tragedy, including those with disabilities. By spotlighting their experiences and challenges, we can work towards a more inclusive society and more accessible communities that are better prepared to support all its members in times of crisis. 

Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week Kick Off at CU: Honoring the heart and soul of care

Sunday, September 10th, 2023

DSP Recognition Week Logo from ANCHOR. Shows a yellow & blue ribbon with the text Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week September 10th - 16th, 2023In a world where compassion and care are more important than ever, there are individuals who stand as beacons of light, providing unwavering support to some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) are the unsung heroes dedicated to enriching the lives of those with disabilities, ensuring they can have fulfilling and meaningful experiences and quality of life. As we celebrate Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week, we will be shining a well-deserved spotlight on the remarkable DSPs that support individuals in our Community Day Programs and Residential Options homes every day. 

Who Are DSPs? 

Direct Support Professionals, often referred to as DSPs, are the compassionate caregivers and support workers who assist individuals with disabilities in various settings, including group homes, day programs, and individual residences. Their responsibilities go far beyond just providing physical assistance; they become mentors, friends, advocates, and many of them become family to those they serve. 

The Heart and Soul of Care 

DSPs are the heart and soul of care for individuals with disabilities. Their dedication and commitment to enhancing the quality of life for those they support are unparalleled. Here are some of the key roles and responsibilities that DSPs undertake: 

  • Personalized Care: DSPs work closely with individuals with disabilities to understand their unique needs, preferences, and goals. They provide personalized care plans that promote independence and well-being. 
  • Skill Development: DSPs help individuals acquire and develop essential life skills, such as communication, hygiene, and self-advocacy. These skills empower individuals to lead more independent lives. 
  • Community Integration: DSPs play a crucial role in helping individuals become active members of their communities. They facilitate opportunities for socialization, participation in community events, and access to recreational activities. 
  • Advocacy: DSPs often act as advocates for individuals with disabilities, ensuring their rights and needs are recognized and met. They help individuals navigate complex systems and access necessary services and resources. 
  • Emotional Support: Beyond physical care, DSPs offer emotional support, fostering trusting and meaningful relationships with those they serve. They provide companionship, a listening ear, and a source of comfort. 

Why Recognition Matters 

Direct Support Professionals often work tirelessly, facing numerous challenges in their roles. They navigate complex emotional situations, deal with limited resources, and provide care that can be physically and emotionally demanding. Recognizing their efforts is essential for several reasons: 

  • Inspiration: Recognizing DSPs for their dedication and hard work can inspire others to join this noble profession. We need more compassionate individuals to enter the field to meet the growing demand for services. 
  • Morale Boost: Recognition boosts the morale of DSPs. It reminds them that their work is valued and appreciated, motivating them to continue providing exceptional care. 
  • Retention: By acknowledging the importance of DSPs, we can improve retention rates in the field. High turnover rates can be detrimental to the continuity of care for individuals with disabilities. 

CU DSP Recognition Week Events

At Challenge Unlimited & Residential Options we appreciate and value the hard work that our DSPs put in all year long, but every year during DSP Recognition Week we go the extra mile and schedule a full week of appreciation events to show our DSPs that we value the work they do for the individuals that we serve. 

Our Skills Training Centers in Alton and Swansea, Illinois have events scheduled daily including breakfasts, lunches, swag and gifts. DSP’s serving Residential Options will also receive gift cards, host in home celebrations, and an appreciation luncheon at Julia’s Banquet Center in East Alton, Illinois. Thanks to the Baker Family, every year one exceptional DSP is also presented with the DSP of the Year Award in honor of the legacy of Paul & Louise Baker, disability trailblazers who fought to bring services to disabled children in the 1950s and 1960s. 

Sandy Curran, daughter of Paul & Louise Baker presents DSP of The Year Award, to DSP Crystal Welborn

Additional events are made possible, because of the community support we receive from our generous sponsors. Thanks to our Platinum Sponsor CSR Asphalt Paving, Gold Sponsors Everspring Pharmacy LLC, Argosy Casino, Phillips 66 Wood River Refinery, Berco Construction, and Carrollton Bank, Silver Sponsors Altonized Community Credit Union, Bickle Electric and Lombardi Interiors and Bronze Sponsors Alton Refrigeration & Home Furnishings, OSF Healthcare St. Anthony’s Health Center, PurePest, Robert’s Ford MotorsJun Construction and Tycon Builders.  

How can You Show Your Appreciation? 

During Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week and beyond, there are several ways to show appreciation for the remarkable work of DSPs: 

  • Express Gratitude: Simply saying “thank you” can go a long way in making DSPs feel valued and appreciated. Take the time to acknowledge their hard work and dedication. 
  • Share Stories: Share stories of DSPs who have made a positive impact on the lives of individuals with disabilities. Highlight their achievements and the difference they’ve made. 
  • Advocate for Fair Compensation: Advocate for fair wages and benefits for DSPs. They deserve competitive salaries and benefits for the crucial work they do. 
  • Volunteer: Consider volunteering your time to support individuals with disabilities or the organizations that employ DSPs. Your help can make a meaningful difference. 

Direct Support Professionals are the unsung heroes who dedicate their careers to improving the lives of individuals with disabilities. Let’s come together to celebrate their unwavering commitment, compassion, and resilience. By recognizing their contributions, we can ensure that the vital work of DSPs continues to uplift and empower those they serve, creating a more inclusive and compassionate world for all. 

Interested in learning more about DSP career opportunities with us? Have a family member looking for housing options or community day programs? Contact us through our website or give us a call (618)465-0044 today.

Celebrating Labor Day: Workforce Innovation and the history of disability employment

Monday, September 4th, 2023


Labor Day, observed on the first Monday of September in the United States, is a day dedicated to honoring the contributions and achievements of the American workforce. While this holiday traditionally celebrates the labor movement and the gains made by workers, it’s also an excellent opportunity to reflect on the progress made in the realm of disability employment throughout history. In this blog post, we will explore the rich history of disability employment and the milestones achieved in promoting inclusivity and equal opportunities for all workers. 

The Early Struggles 

Historically, individuals with disabilities faced significant barriers when seeking employment. Discrimination, prejudice, and misconceptions about their abilities limited their opportunities in the workforce. However, there were a few bright spots in the early history of disability employment. The Civil War, for example, saw the employment of disabled veterans in various government positions, laying the groundwork for later disability employment initiatives. 

World War I and II: Turning Points 

The world wars brought about significant changes in the landscape of disability employment. As large numbers of soldiers returned home with disabilities, there was a growing recognition of the need to support them in their transition to civilian life. The Rehabilitation Act of 1918 marked a crucial step forward by providing vocational training and employment opportunities for disabled veterans. 

World War II further accelerated these efforts, leading to the establishment of the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program by the Veterans Administration (now the Department of Veterans Affairs). This program aimed to provide disabled veterans with training, job placement services, and support to reintegrate into the workforce. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 

One of the most significant milestones in the history of disability employment in the United States was the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. This landmark legislation prohibited discrimination against individuals with disabilities in various aspects of life, including employment. Under the ADA, employers were required to provide reasonable accommodations to enable qualified individuals with disabilities to perform their job duties effectively. 

The ADA not only provided legal protection but also raised awareness about the importance of inclusive workplaces. This led to greater inclusivity in hiring practices and the removal of physical and attitudinal barriers that had previously hindered disabled individuals’ employment opportunities. 

AbilityOne Program 

The AbilityOne Program is a shining example of how innovative initiatives can promote disability employment and inclusivity in the workforce. Established in 1938, this federal program has been instrumental in creating job opportunities for people with disabilities while delivering valuable products and services to the government.  

In the quest for a more inclusive and equitable workforce, programs like the AbilityOne Program stand as beacons of hope. This initiative, deeply rooted in the principles of social responsibility and equality, has made significant strides in facilitating disability employment in the United States. In this blog post, we will explore the remarkable journey of the AbilityOne Program and its pivotal role in fostering employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. 

As we celebrate Labor Day, let us reflect on the importance of work, let us recognize and support programs like AbilityOne that are making a difference in the lives of people with disabilities, proving that talent knows no bounds when given the right opportunities. 

Technology and Remote Work 

Advances in technology have played a pivotal role in improving employment prospects for people with disabilities. The rise of remote work and digital accessibility initiatives have created new opportunities for disabled individuals to participate in the workforce. Accessible technology, screen readers, and other assistive devices have empowered individuals with disabilities to excel in various professions. 

Companies are increasingly recognizing the value of a diverse and inclusive workforce, which includes employees with disabilities. Many organizations are implementing policies and practices to support disability employment and foster a more inclusive workplace culture. 


On this Labor Day, it’s important to acknowledge the progress made in the realm of disability employment throughout history. From the early struggles to the passage of the ADA, to the Wagner-O’Day Act, into the innovation of the AbilityOne Program, and the technological advancements of today, there has been a remarkable transformation in the opportunities available to individuals with disabilities.  

However, there is still work to be done to ensure full inclusivity and equal access to employment for all. By continuing to raise awareness, advocate for disability rights, and promote inclusive workplaces, we can build a future where everyone has the opportunity to contribute their skills and talents to the workforce. 

At Challenge Unlimited, we are incredibly grateful for the dedication, hard work, and passion that our workforce brings to the table every day. You are the backbone of our organization, and your commitment to excellence is what makes us shine. Through thick and thin, you’ve shown resilience, adaptability, and unwavering support, and for that, we say THANK YOU!

Let’s continue to inspire, innovate, and achieve greatness together.

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