Residential Options Participates in 2019 Speak Up Speak Out Summit

Thursday, October 31st, 2019

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.

Challenge Unlimited Joins Advocacy Effort for Growing Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities

Friday, June 7th, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 03, 2019) – On June 3rd through June 6th, Challenge Unlimited, Inc. joined SourceAmerica and more than 50 other nonprofit agencies for a 3-day event – the SourceAmerica Grassroots Advocacy Conference – to highlight the impact of public policy on employment for people with disabilities.

Challenge Unlimited self-advocate, Keith (pictured right), poses next to Senator Mike Bost (middle) at the 2019 SourceAmerica Grassroots Advocacy Conference.

The conference was held in Washington, D.C. Each year, SourceAmerica engages in a variety of grassroots advocacy activities aimed at educating members of Congress about the need for increased employment options for people with disabilities. Leading up to the event, Challenge Unlimited took part in SourceAmerica training sessions for nonprofit leaders, self-advocates and their family members on how to share stories and help with the advocacy effort.

This year, the Challenge Unlimited team was joined by self-advocate, Keith Pendegraft. Keith is a talented young man with a disability who works at one of Challenge Unlimited’s AbilityOne contracts at Scott Air Force Base. Keith has greatly benefitted from the AbilityOne program and truly enjoys his job. Some of his favorite aspects of his job include the camaraderie, teamwork and assisting his other coworkers when they need help. Keith has stated that his wish is for others to understand that people with disabilities are the same as the general public—they have hopes and dreams, and they also deserve access to meaningful employment opportunities.

During the Grassroots Advocacy conference, Keith, his mother and the Challenge Unlimited team visited Capitol Hill to meet with legislators from the five states in which Challenge Unlimited holds contracts through the AbilityOne program—Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina and Wisconsin. These in-person visits are designed to remind lawmakers that the work they do in Washington affects the economy and livelihood of the constituents, including people with disabilities, in their home districts.

“We look forward to bringing these individuals to Capitol Hill so they can share their personal stories and help shape their legislators’ disability employment decisions,” said Challenge President and CEO, Charlotte Hammond. “It’s critical for the self-advocates to make connections, have their voices heard and affect policy at a local, state or national level.”

SourceAmerica Grassroots Conference 2018

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

In June 2018, Challenge Unlimited participated in the Annual SourceAmerica Grassroots Advocacy Conference in Washington, D.C.

During this annual conference, individuals with disabilities participating in the AbilityOne Program, family members and nonprofit agencies from across the country converge on Capitol Hill to discuss with their Members of Congress how legislative changes impact the disability community and the importance of the program.  Last year, AbilityOne employee and CU client Shane, his father, CU President and CEO Charlotte Hammond, and other CU team members represented our organization on the Hill. During their visit, they met with 10 Members of Congress. 

We are very proud of Shane and the CU team for being that beacon for Shane to flourish as a worker and citizen in his community. 

Local Legislators

Monday, August 14th, 2017

Challenge Unlimited – Local Legislators

Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA)

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

Challenge derives power from the people we serve, stakeholders and the community, seeking to engage people in the political process at the local and national level that impact people with disability.

The bipartisan WIOA, signed by President Obama on July 22, 2014, created a new vision for how America prepares an educated and skilled workforce that expands opportunity for workers and employers. The Administration laid out a vision for our job training system that “trains our workers first based on what employers are telling us they’re hiring for and helps business design the training programs so that we’re creating a pipeline into jobs that are actually out there. This collaborative system will deliver integrated, job-driven services to job seekers, including youth and those with barriers to employment, as well as to workers and employers.

Attaining competitive integrated employment is a goal for all individuals with disabilities receiving vocational rehabilitation (VR) services in WIOA. However, it appears the integrated location criterion in the final regulation is based on an overly simplistic and inaccurate understanding of the types of jobs that are provided through the AbilityOne Program. As a result Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) is no longer recognizing employment in the AbilityOne program as a viable employment opportunity for people with disabilities because RSA incorrectly views these jobs as “not typically found in the community”. AbilityOne jobs are real jobs with integrated settings and wages well above the federal minimum wage. Challenge is requesting the following action:

  • Rescind the guidance and clarify to state VR agencies that job opportunities are not to be automatically disqualified simply because of their affiliation with the AbilityOne program.
  • As required by law, determinations should be made on a case-by-case basis, not through blanket disqualification.

    Let's Talk

    Request to speak with a Challenge Unlimited representative about your needs.


    Source America, IARF, CARF, and Ability One
    Diverse Business Leaders