For over 60 years, Challenge Unlimited, a national nonprofit headquartered in Alton, IL, has secured employment opportunities for the individuals with disabilities, the disadvantaged and veterans so they may achieve their highest level of independence. The agency is delighted to announce that nearly 100 of their janitorial apprentices have graduated from their DOL-Registered Apprenticeship Program this month. Approximately 70% of the graduates are individuals living with significant disabilities.
The agency held a virtual ceremony on October 22, 2020 to celebrate the accomplishments of their graduates. Keynote speakers included regional representatives from the U.S. Department of Labor, Governor J.B. Pritzker and City of Alton Mayor Brandt Walker. Remarks were also given by Challenge President and CEO, Charlotte Hammond, and Executive Vice President of Operations, Tony Crawley.
Businesses throughout the metro area tapping into a hardworking, dedicated workforce offered by Challenge Unlimited (CU), a national nonprofit headquartered in Alton, IL. CU is the first and only nonprofit agency in the metro area which matches the temporary staffing needs of businesses with a talented workforce comprised of individuals with all disabilities, the disadvantaged and veterans. The organization also provides on-site job coaches, assistance with on-boarding and other hiring-related functions.
National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), observed annually in October, is dedicated to increasing awareness of this talent pool.
“We cultivate a qualified workforce of highly capable individuals who are eager and ready to work,” says Charlotte Hammond, CEO and President of Challenge Unlimited. “Our overarching goal is to match pre-screened individuals with the staffing needs of area businesses.”
The year 2020 has proven to be a challenging one for all of us – a “competition” between life the way we knew it and what’s now considered the new normal. Right now, we are all being challenged to do whatever we can to help “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 cases with social distancing, while keeping essential businesses operating.
Working both sides of this unique challenge has become a necessity for not only the front-line workers, but those who support them and community leaders as well. Illinois-based Challenge Unlimited Inc. has literally “been up to the challenge” since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a SourceAmerica member nonprofit agency, Challenge Unlimited employs professionals with disabilities through three main conduits – the U.S. AbilityOne® Program via General Services Administration (GSA) and U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) contracts, state use contracts and the commercial sector. Their customers span a wide range that includes the military, federal and state governments, and the judicial circuit court system. Challenge Unlimited provides janitorial, grounds maintenance, food service, commissary, and total facility management services. Since the organization has multiple lines of business that are considered essential, Challenge Unlimited employees have continued to deliver for their customers daily and have performed their duties while providing a reassuring face to building tenants during these trying times.
Through the AbilityOne Program – one of the nation’s largest sources of employment for people with significant disabilities – Challenge Unlimited manages service contracts that employ approximately 340 individuals performing custodial services at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. They also provide grounds maintenance services at Great Lakes Naval Base and Scott Air Force Base, both in Illinois. Each of these contracts are still running during the pandemic.
Brian Roarke is a custodian at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. He understands that the importance of his work has taken on a greater meaning. “Working right now is not much different other than wiping down doorknobs and common touch points,” he said. Roarke is taking extra precautions at his work site via the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and maintaining of social distancing. “The work is important to stop the spread of the virus and keep other people safe.”
Challenge Unlimited Executive Vice President of Operations Tony Crawley knows that his talented workforce is part of the solution to keeping essential operations running. “I’m grateful to our front-line workers for addressing multiple customer COVID-19 cleanups during this time and continuing to provide essential services daily to our customers.”
Challenge Unlimited employs more than 60 people with disabilities for AbilityOne GSA contracts throughout Illinois, Missouri, and Ohio. During the pandemic, the organization has been working with many of their customers to increase the frequencies of “touch-point cleaning” to improve safety at these locations. In order to meet increasing demands related to COVID-19, they have taken enhanced actions including increased training for staff and procuring electrostatic sprayers to address the current and anticipated pandemic needs of the future. According to Crawley, the electrostatic sprayers can sanitize and kill 99.9% of bacteria on hard, nonporous surfaces and hard-to-reach places, and has the ability to cover up to 18,000 square feet per hour.
Challenge Unlimited’s largest commercial contract provides cleaning and disinfection services in downtown St. Louis to the Missouri 22nd Judicial Circuit. Vernon Betts is the city’s Deputy Sheriff. He acknowledged the professional response and essential cleaning and disinfection services that Challenge Unlimited provided in response to a positive COVID-19 test in his department. “I want to thank the cleaning staff for their professional response and acknowledge how essential our custodial workers are during this crisis,” said Betts.
The professionals at Challenge Unlimited take their role – and name – seriously. They understand that the COVID-19 response is the ultimate challenge in need of a special response. Keeping multiple sectors of the nation’s essential services open for business is a challenge that they readily accept.
The St. Louis Regional Chamber and presenting sponsor RubinBrown announced the 2020 Arcus Awards winners last night at the 7th Annual Arcus Awards, held at the Hyatt Regency at the Arch. The Arcus Awards celebrate extraordinary achievements of private businesses, governmental organizations, innovators and non-profits that are making the St. Louis region an attractive place to live, work and invest.
Challenge Unlimited was honored to receive an Arcus Award for Achievement in Inclusive Business Solutions at the event!
Arcus Award for Achievement in Inclusive Business Solutions honors exemplary work achieving measurable growth in the enterprise of diverse business and/or has implemented an innovative solution including a diverse business enterprise.
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By Carina Jones (Director of Clinical Services at Residential Options)
The self-advocacy committee, a committee comprised of 15 clients from Residential Options, participated in the Speak Up Speak Out Summit held in Springfield, Illinois at the Wyndham Hotel and Conference Center October 28th through the 30Th. This year’s theme was “Hear My Voice, Support My Choice”. The summit was developed by the ARC of Illinois and funded by the Illinois Council on Development Disabilities. The clients were able to apply for financial assistance to assist with hotel, registration and transportation fees.
Clients arrived in Springfield on October 28th for early registration, since the summit started its sessions on October 29th. Arriving early allowed the clients to participate in a tour of the state capital. While legislators were in session, their schedules did not allow time for individual conversations with the clients. The clients were excited to see the offices and meeting rooms while stating, “We will be back to talk another time.” After the tour, the clients shopped at the local mall and had dinner before resting so that they were ready for the next day’s events.
The event was comprised of keynote speakers, break out sessions, and Fun time! The clients were able to listen to stories from individuals with disabilities who have faced adversity and still accomplished their goals and achieved their dreams. The breakout sessions included trainings on Respect, the power off self-advocacy, and internet safety, just to name a few. The clients were even able to sit on a panel and given advice and support to other individuals. One of our clients stated, “It felt good to be called on to share with the group…. I felt really good.”
As always, the event makes sure to make time to have fun and boy do they know how to party. A Halloween themed dance was held on October 29th and everyone was encouraged to dress up while dancing to all the latest hits provided by the DJ. Now if dancing wasn’t your thing, then a Wii was set up for some good competitive bowling. The next morning, all the clients were dragging into breakfast saying things like, “Boy, I partied like it was 1965!” Another client said, “I’m getting old.” But everyone agreed the dance was one of the top favorites when discussing activities that are provided at the summit.
It was sad on Wednesday when all things came to an end as the team packed all their bags and loaded the van back up to head back to Alton. One client stated, “take me back.” The self-advocacy had one last meeting over lunch to discuss the event and what they had learned. One client said, “I learned that in order to get respect I have to give it, that’s where it starts, and that’s with my staff, my family and my friends.” Another client stated, “I learned how to make an action plan to help me achieve some of my goals- moving out on my own. I had to list when I wanted to do this and who I needed to get help from.” Staff stated, “it was nice to see the clients taking notes and actually paying attention.” Everyone agreed that the summit was an event not to miss and that they must continue to work to stay on the committee so that they can attend next year’s summit.
ST. LOUIS, MO — FOCUS St. Louis, the region’s premier leadership organization, honored Challenge Unlimited and 19 other individuals, organizations, and initiatives making a difference at the 22nd Annual What’s Right with the Region Awards Celebration on May 16, 2019.
Challenge Unlimited was selected as an honoree for a What’s Right with the Region Award in the category of Improving Equity and Inclusion. The award recognizes companies for exhibiting exemplary work in the area of inclusive business solutions by achieving measurable growth in the business enterprise over a one-year period. Challenge Unlimited’s Board Chairman, Tom Morrissey, and President and CEO, Charlotte Hammond, both accepted the prestigious award on behalf of the organization.
Challenge Unlimited’s selection as an honoree can be attributed to many activities from hiring, to corporate culture, and being highly-engaged with the local business community. The organization has a rich history of workplace inclusion dating back to its founding and has been a trailblazer for employing and providing opportunities to individuals with disabilities, the disadvantaged and veterans. The company continues to foster an inclusive and diverse workplace, demonstrated by a workforce that is over 50 percent comprised of individuals with disabilities.
For 60 years, CU has been committed to the inclusion of individuals with disabilities, veterans and those with disadvantages or barriers to employment—both in the workplace and in mainstream society. With President and CEO Charlotte Hammond’s leadership, the organization helps people with disabilities from all walks of life acquire the skills and connections to maximize their participation in the community.
“Being selected as an honoree for this prestigious award is the result of a shared dedication to our initiatives, resources and community involvement in advancing diversity in the region,” said Hammond. “I am proud of our team for being a beacon for inclusion to the community.”
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A Quick Bite 2 (a developmental training worksite for individuals with disabilities) was recently featured on KSDK News. We are very proud to partner with St. Clair County Transit District for this opportunity, which has provided an additional pathway to meaningful work for our clients. The video can be viewed here.
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Challenge Unlimited’s President and CEO, Charlotte Hammond, was recently profiled in the St. Louis Business Journal’s ‘St. Louis Character’ feature. The article, which can be read here, brings awareness to the important work that Charlotte and Challenge Unlimited do to support individuals with disabilities in the St. Louis region.
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Challenge Unlimited is proud to be part of the St. Louis Business Journal Diverse Business Leader Awards Class of 2018! Click the image below to find out why Challenge Unlimited is a champion for diversity and inclusion.
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Challenge Unlimited (CU) recently received a St. Louis Business Journal 2018 Diverse Business Leader award for the category of Nonprofit Champion in Diversity and Inclusion. The award honors local individuals, companies and civic organizations that are committed to employing a diverse workforce and have programs, initiatives, resources and/or community involvement that promotes diversity in the workplace. CU’s selection for this award can be attributed to many activities from hiring, to corporate culture, and being highly-engaged with the local business community.