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 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..

*Advocacy Alert* Help Us Stabilize the Disability Services Workforce!

Thursday, November 10th, 2022

We are joining forces with our partners at Illinois Association for Rehabilitation Services to ask for your support . Without Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) and other crucial frontline staff, we have no community-based services for children and adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities in Illinois. This is why it is important that our Illinois providers have the means to retain amazing staff and try and recruit compassionate individuals into these crucial roles.  Unfortunately, providers across Illinois are struggling mightily to retain staff and hire new ones, losing workers to industries that can pay higher wages and benefits, even if the work is less meaningful and impactful.

We want to make sure we can offer fair bonuses to longtime workers and to recruit new ones into disability services so we can compete with other industries. We need your help in this effort, because we know you can make a difference by talking to your state Representative and Senator.

Today we are asking you to give your legislator(s) in Springfield a call and ask them to support workers in disability services by passing a state budget supplemental during the Fall Veto Session.

Click this link to make a difference in the lives of individuals living with disabilities and let  your voice be heard!

Clients from our Skills Training Centers showed appreciation for our DSP’s for #DSPWeek2022

Challenge Unlimited wraps up NDEAM celebration with US Department of Labor Apprenticeship Graduation

Monday, October 31st, 2022

The Class of 2022 Graduation Ceremony can be viewed here:

Challenge Unlimited wraps up National Disability Employment Awareness Month with a celebration of opportunities.

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 50 of their janitorial and grounds keeping apprentices have graduated from their DOL-Registered Apprenticeship Program this month. Many of the graduates are individuals living with significant disabilities.  

The agency is holding a virtual ceremony on October 31, 2022 to celebrate the accomplishments of their graduates. Keynote speakers included representatives from the United States Army Contracting Department and City of Alton Mayor David Goins. Steve Harris from News Channel 4 is the official emcee for the graduation and remarks will also be given by Challenge President and CEO, Charlotte Hammond, and Executive Vice President of Operations, James Porter.

“We are proud to be the home of Challenge Unlimited and immensely proud of all of you. ,” said Mayor Goins to the graduates.  

During their apprenticeship, apprentices received over 1000 hours of hands-on professional development and training in the janitorial and grounds keeping fields. They fulfilled their apprenticeship responsibilities while working at Challenge’s commercial and federal contract sites located in Illinois, Ohio, Missouri and Wisconsin. Apprentices achieved training certifications through both the Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) training program and the Department of Labor Apprenticeship Certification Program.  

“For more than 60 years, the pathway to meaningful work for all abilities has started at Challenge Unlimited,” said President and CEO, Charlotte Hammond. “Each of our apprentices are a living testament to our history and a shining light guiding the future for people of all abilities.” Celebrations were held on site for many of the graduates throughout the month of October as well. 

The Class of 2022 Apprenticeship Graduation Ceremony can be viewed via Youtube Premiere at this link: US Department of Labor Virtual Graduation Ceremony

About Challenge Unlimited 

As a social entrepreneur, Challenge Unlimited has grown its business services from a single custodial contract to over 50 service and production contracts. We deliver quality solutions in facility management, production services and staffing services. An authorized partner of the AbilityOne Program, Challenge Unlimited manages operations across six states: Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin, Mississippi and South Carolina. Today, Challenge Unlimited employs over 1,000 workers; of which approximately 600 are individuals with disabilities. Click here to learn more about our award-winning services. 

NDEAM #SundaySuccessStory

Sunday, October 16th, 2022

Shane Kelly – Challenge Unlimited 

Shane Kelly’s disability is invisible to some. He joined the Challenge Unlimited team in 2011. He was still living at home with his parents and the AbilityOne program was exactly what he needed to gain his independence. Meaningful employment provides opportunities for people living with disabilities to grow and develop life skills far beyond workforce training. It also provides a sense of community by fostering diversity, equity, inclusivity, and personal development. Here is Shane’s story.  

Shane’s first job was working as a Page in the House of Representatives, but he was not comfortable doing it. The position required him to wait in a room with many people until a Representative pushed a button, the Page would then go to the representative and complete the task requested. The unknown upcoming interaction made Shane extremely uncomfortable. Through the AbilityOne Program he was able to find a better fit. He was introverted, quiet and rarely made eye contact when he began the GSA janitorial position at the Paul Findley Federal Building in Springfield, IL. Shane’s supervisor recalls that in his interview that “he did not look up once, gave one-word answer to all questions and when asked to explain his feelings he simply replied, I don’t know.”  

At first, he never said more than a few words or interacted with co-workers. Shane mostly kept to himself, but with each passing year he began to gain confidence and engage more with his peers and the tenants in the building. This was something his case manager and his mother noticed too. He became more social and engaged more often with his family at home. “He joined in on family functions, even attending family reunions.” Which his mother said made her “incredibly happy for him.” 

Over time, this growing confidence created a desire for him to help others who had similar struggles. He specifically displayed this when new hires would join his team. Shane developed the ability to train inexperienced staff with patience, empathy, and compassion, especially when dealing with teammates who were struggling. He was sensitive to their discomfort and would assist them in learning new things, help them to navigate the building, show them where they could find the things, they needed to do their job. Shane would also introduce them to and engage them with tenants in the building.  

There was one new employee that Shane showed a sensitivity toward; he could relate to their struggle with communication and confidence. He saw this as an opportunity to help. His supervisor remembers him coming into her office and closing the door to share a story. She said, “it was like hearing a proud father explain how their child overcame a huge obstacle.” Shane went on to tell her that this once introverted employee, who was just like himself, had directly asked one of the tenants if it was “ok to vacuum their office.” A small feat for some, but for people living with disabilities who have trouble communicating and expressing themselves, this is amazing progress. This individual now has conversations with guards and tenants in the building. The same growth seen in Shane is now being seen in this individual, all because of Shane’s help and patient coaching.  

His new confidence and communication skills made him feel that it was important to advocate for persons with disabilities too. He went on to represent Challenge Unlimited and the AbilityOne program at the Grassroots Advocacy Conference in Washington, D.C and participated in personal and group meetings with members of Congress. He took the Source America training courses to help with public speaking and the development of sharing his story. Shane spoke with other SA non-profit organizations about his personal growth and the importance of providing these opportunities for people with disabilities.  

Shane was promoted to lead janitor in 2019 and is one of the only people that Federal Judge Sue Myerscough will allow to clean her space. He is trustworthy and his work ethic is appreciated. She said that “Shane is an exceptionally hardworking and responsible young man. We enjoy having him in our chambers and could not imagine anyone else occupying his role.”  

When Shane came into the AbilityOne Program he was living at home with his parents, since then he moved into his own apartment and has learned how to budget his income. Shane’s takeaway from his time at Challenge “Over the course of my time of being a part of Challenge Unlimited, I have been able to break out of my shell. I used to be a shy and withdrawn person, and now I have the confidence to strike up a conversation with someone. I am able do things on my own, without the assistance of others.”    

The GSA Supervisory Property Manager said, “Shane is a true success story that should be shared and honored for his dedication and hard work.” He is a shining example of an employee with a disability who has exhibited outstanding achievement, exceptional character, and significant personal growth.  

#NDEAM2022 #SundaySuccessStory #EmploymentStories #ShanesStory

Local artist featured in National Online Art Auction

Thursday, October 13th, 2022

Art, Awareness, and Ability – #ThursdayswithTunstell  

“Artists can use a number of techniques to create depth in their compositions, some of which are simple and others that are more advanced.” (MasterClass)

Much like any other skill, depth perception is a varied ability that comes naturally to some but requires training and practice for others. People create art to express themselves, to feel seen, and to help others relate to them. Art lets us know we are not alone and that like the varied brushstrokes on a canvas, we are all different and beautiful. 

Tunstell Griffin is an artist that has been working on his skills for over a decade. Inspired by traditional landscapes of Bob Ross, he is motivated by a desire to find calm and peace and has learned that creating art to deal with his anger and anxiety, is a healthy way to cope. 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.  

He has been a client of the Challenge Unlimited Residential Options program for over 13 years and said in his interview that “He is so grateful for Challenge.” He works at Denny’s and says he spends almost all his free time painting.

When Palmetto Goodwill reached out seeking artist contributions from people living with disabilities for their Online Gallery Auction, we were excited to get the chance to highlight his artwork on a national stage and to celebrate his success. He said his art began as elementary and he has worked hard to learn the craft. He has taken classes and continues to practice perfecting his techniques.  

The Palmetto Art Gallery Auction is part of several events that Challenge Unlimited is participating in to celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and all proceeds go directly to the artists.

Tunstell has 3 entries shown below: “Pathway to Recovery”, “Midnight Moon”, and “Chapel of Solace”. He says he has never titled his paintings before, but as an artist refines their skills, it is part of the natural progression to step out of your comfort zone. He did just that with these entries. 

Many of our staff have been lucky enough to purchase one of his early works and as an extension of the auction we will be promoting his art and offering many of Tunstell’s paintings for sale throughout the month.  

The album of paintings available for purchase is posted on our Facebook Page and linked here. You can email or complete the Contact Us form on our website to inquire about purchasing.  

A little bit of Isaac Hayes and a little bit Bob Ross, the artist really is as cool as he looks.

Special thanks to Picture This & More in Alton, Il for their partnership and generous donation of gallery framing for Tunstell’s entries.  Click Here to Place Your Bid!

NDEAM #SundaySuccessStory

Sunday, October 9th, 2022

Sandy Norman – Challenge Unlimited 

In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) we will share success stories of how steady and dependable employment can improve the quality of life for those living with disabilities. Sandy is a perfect example of how meaningful employment can change someone’s life, create a sense of community, and help those living with disabilities to overcome setbacks. She is an individual who came to the program with anxiety, depression, and a learning disability, one that could have prevented her from ever working or becoming independent. Through the AbilityOne Program she has been able to not only overcome those struggles but has become an example to others and is thriving.  

Her learning disability started early in childhood. At birth, the umbilical cord was wrapped twice around her neck, and she was not expected to survive. While she did survive, due to her disabilities she lacked confidence and continued to struggle with learning new things, severe anxiety, and chronic depression. Sandy worked at a grocery store early in her career. During that time, she noticed her disabilities were becoming so unmanageable that she became unable to work.  

Sandy wanted to re-enter the workforce and joined the Great Lakes Grounds team in 2014. Her Project Manager said, “I recall Sandy’s interview as she was my first hire. She was so nervous that she asked her mother to sit in with her during the interview.” When she started the position, she had a tough time looking anyone in the eye, was intimidated at the thought of using the equipment, and even turned flush when she was directly spoken to. Overall, Sandy was very timid, and her supervisors feared that she might not be able to make it in a physically demanding and male dominated field. They quickly learned that was not the case at all. Within a month, Sandy was operating the necessary equipment and showed that she was a hard worker. Her co-workers noticed this too and she became a valuable member of the team.  

She started to show her leadership skills and entered the Client to Lead Program. She gained the confidence to use a riding mower and was asked to be a certified driver for the contract to move crews to and from work assignments. Again, she was hesitant as she was not experienced in pulling and backing trailers, but Sandy continued to show what an asset she had become to everyone that she works with. By 2015, she was driving a trailer full of mulch, hauling equipment as needed and was promoted to supervisor at Great Lakes. 

In her role as supervisor Sandy has obtained multiple certifications including becoming OSHA certified, as well as becoming an alternate Site Safety and Health Officer for the Great Lakes Contract. She is a licensed spray operator and can apply chemicals at the base too. She is also now certified in First Aid and CPR. She has become an advocate for others and attended the SourceAmerica Grassroots Conference to share her story and the importance of the AbilityOne Program for people like her.  

Sandy was recently promoted to Quality Control Manager at Challenge Unlimited for the Great Lakes Grounds contract and continues to show that she can do anything she sets her mind too. Sandy is a success story of an AbilityOne client who has become a leader, an asset to Challenge Unlimited, to her teammates, and to the contract at Great Lakes. She now has no trouble making eye contact, has mastered the tasks that once seemed unthinkable. Sandy is an exemplary employee and a beacon of hope for people living with disabilities who might lack the confidence to seek employment, try something different, get out of their comfort zone, and have faith in their own abilities.  

She said through the AbilityOne Program she has gained independence, confidence, and the ability to make better decisions while leading her crew. All skills that have helped her personally and professionally to be more outgoing. Her success through the AbilityOne Program is paramount to her dedication, drive, work ethic, and determination.  We are so proud of you Sandy and happy to have you on our team.

#NDEAM2022 #SundaySuccessStory #EmploymentStories #SandysStory

Challenge Unlimited Members and Employees will Participate in National Disability Employment Awareness Month 

Monday, October 3rd, 2022

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and all members  and employees of Challenge Unlimited, Project CU, Residential Options, and AOS Staffing are encouraged to participate. The purpose of National Disability Employment Awareness Month is to educate about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. 

Held annually, National Disability Employment Awareness Month is led by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, but it’s true spirit lies in the many observances held at the grassroots level across the nation every year. Employers of all sizes and in all industries are participating in NDEAM. 

All month we will be sharing success stories, best practices, and ways big and small that we can all support and advocate for an inclusive workforce, so be sure to visit us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for those stories and updates. Don’t forget to “share, react, and comment” to help us spread the word! 

For specific ideas about how Challenge Unlimited partners, members and employees can help support National Disability Employment Awareness Month, visit Suggestions range from simple, such as putting up a poster, to comprehensive, such as implementing a disability education program. Regardless, all play an important part in fostering a more equitable and inclusive workforce, one where all people are recognized for their abilities — every day of every month. 


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