Grassroots

Breaking Barriers: How Technology Empowered Jordyn Zimmerman

Thursday, May 16th, 2024

From Silence to Advocacy: Jordyn’s Journey

Introduction

In a world where words often dominate, we must pause and recognize the richness of nonverbal communication. Neurodiversity—the beautiful tapestry of human minds—extends beyond spoken language. Today, we celebrate those who communicate differently, highlighting their unique perspectives and contributions.

Meet Jordyn Zimmerman: A Trailblazer

Jordyn Zimmerman, an advocate for nonverbal individuals with autism, exemplifies resilience and determination. Her journey is a testament to the transformative power of technology and the human spirit. Let’s delve into her story.

The Silent Struggle

Jordyn spent her early years navigating a world where words eluded her. She communicated through body language, pictures, and gestures. Professionals often underestimated her abilities, dismissing her potential. But Jordyn defied their expectations. Her breakthrough came at 18 when she discovered an augmentative and alternative communication app called Proloquo. Suddenly, her voice had wings—digital ones.

Proving Them Wrong

Jordyn’s journey wasn’t just about finding her voice and proving everyone wrong. Teachers, peers, and even family members had doubted her capabilities. They said she couldn’t learn, couldn’t express herself, and couldn’t advocate for others. But Jordyn persisted. With her iPad as her ally, she shattered those misconceptions. She typed out her thoughts, shared her dreams, and advocated for change.

From Unheard to Influential

Jordyn’s advocacy work extends beyond personal triumph. She now serves on the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. Her mission? To secure better resources and educational opportunities for students with disabilities. Jordyn believes that every child deserves a chance to thrive, regardless of their ability to speak conventionally.

Rewriting the Rules

Our education systems often segregate non-speaking students. Jordyn challenges this status quo. She advocates for technology integration, urging schools to embrace tools that empower every student. Let’s rewrite the rules together—creating inclusive spaces where communication knows no bounds. This mission aligns perfectly with the goals of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, which aims to promote digital access and inclusion for people with different disabilities.

Apple’s Role in the Journey

Apple recognized Jordyn’s direct communication style. She uses Apple’s Live Speech feature daily, showcasing her humor and authenticity. Technology isn’t just a tool; it’s a bridge to understanding. Jordyn’s story reminds us that innovation can amplify once-silent voices. GAAD also emphasizes the importance of accessible technology, celebrating advancements that allow individuals like Jordyn to communicate and advocate more effectively.

Impact and Hope

Jordyn’s advocacy work impacts lives—one person at a time. By sharing her story, she changes the narrative. Let’s join her in creating a more understanding and supportive world for all children. Nonverbal neurodiversity enriches our collective experience, reminding us that communication transcends mere words. This message is at the heart of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, encouraging everyone to learn about and implement accessible practices.

Conclusion

Let’s amplify their voices as we celebrate Jordyn Zimmerman and others like her. Let’s recognize the beauty of neurodiversity—the symphony of minds, each playing a unique melody. Together, we can build a world where everyone’s voice matters, whether spoken or unspoken. Whether spoken directly or using assisted technology, this is a reminder that every voice matters.

Let’s honor Global Accessibility Awareness Day by committing to greater accessibility and inclusion in all aspects of life. Always consider accessibility a must-have in technology. Ensure your digital content, websites, and tools are inclusive, enabling everyone to participate fully in our digital world.

Whether spoken directly or using assisted technology, this is a reminder that every voice matters.

CU Accessibility 2024 Goals:

    1. Promote Accessibility: Advocate for integrating accessibility features in all technological developments. Accessibility should not be an afterthought but a fundamental aspect of design.
    2. Learn and Implement: Learn about accessibility best practices. Resources are available on the GAAD website and other platforms to help you implement these practices in your work.
    3. Support Advocacy: Support organizations and individuals working towards greater accessibility and inclusion. Share their stories, volunteer your time, or donate to causes that promote accessibility.
    4. Create Inclusive Content: Ensure your content—a website, an app, or digital media—is accessible to all users. Use tools and guidelines, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), to help create inclusive digital experiences.

Join us in our mission to Let’s make technology accessible for everyone. Click below to view Jordyn’s Interview with CBS News.

#NonverbalNeurodiversity #Empowerment #Advocacy #TechForGood #GAAD

Click below to view Jordyn’s Interview with CBS News

#NonverbalNeurodiversity #Empowerment #Advocacy #TechForGood 

 

Sources:

iPad gives non-speaking woman a voice to advocate for Americans with disabilities

How technology helped a non-speaking autistic woman find her voice

CBS News: How technology helped a non-speaking autistic woman find her voice


Partnering for Progress: Why Your Business Should Join Forces with Challenge Unlimited

Thursday, May 2nd, 2024

At Challenge Unlimited, we understand that partnerships are key to fostering a diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible (DEIA) workplace. Recently, WBGZ Radio hosted our Marketing Manager, Stephanie Schrage, and ABB Human Resources Generalist, Michelle Whitman, as guests on “Let’s Talk.”

Pictured from right to left are Michelle Wittman, ABB Employee Dawson, his supervisor at ABB, his CU job coach, and Challenge Unlimited VP of Programs John Becker.

The interview spotlighted how Challenge Unlimited partners with businesses like ABB Optical to promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) at work. The collaboration with ABB Optical showcases the power of these partnerships and how organizations can meet their DEIA objectives while making a significant community impact.

Michelle shared, “Working with Challenge Unlimited has enhanced our commitment to diversity and opened up new pathways for inclusion and equity in our workplace.”

Why partner with us? With nearly 65 years of experience, we expertly integrate individuals with disabilities into the workforce, enriching their lives and the fabric of our community. Businesses gain dedicated, reliable employees who benefit from the diversity of thought and experience they bring, and employees gain independence and a sense of self-satisfaction by achieving their goals. Our job coaching experts provide support when needed and work directly with the employer and individuals to address any challenges they face.

“Our collaboration is a powerful demonstration of how inclusivity enriches everyone involved,” says Michelle. She adds, “It’s a win-win, enhancing our workforce while meeting our DEIA goals.”

Listen to the full interview and hear more of Michelle’s testimonial about her experience with our organization and the program below.

Autism Acceptance is engrained in Challenge Unlimited’s mission. Let’s continue the initiative and embrace neurodiversity in our workplaces and communities.

Discover how your organization can benefit from partnering with us by visiting www.cuinc.org/contactus or calling our business development team at 618-462-0044.

Together, we can create a workplace that truly celebrates every individual’s potential.

 


Illinois Must Do Better: Supporting Our Disabled Citizens

Friday, April 26th, 2024

As the CEO of Challenge Unlimited, I see firsthand the challenges faced by the disabled community in Illinois.

My message to the Illinois General Assembly is simple: “Let’s do better.”

Let’s do better for the estimated 300,000 Illinoisans with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and their families. The State has responded based on the advocacy work of our providers to support a year after year after year dollar-an-hour increase for Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) who provide community-based support — helping people with IDD with daily tasks like getting ready for work, eating meals, take medication, and have a good quality of life.

Yet, Illinois lags behind, ranking 46th among states and the District of Columbia in funding for community-based services. This isn’t just disappointing; it’s unsustainable. Can’t we aspire to at least reach the national average?  Don’t Illinoisans deserve that?

I applaud the state for raising the minimum wage; however, commensurate wages have not been provided to DSPs who are supporting people with IDD to be active community members across all Medicaid waiver programs. These professionals support individuals with IDD and their roles demand, knowledge, skill, and compassion, which are invaluable to the families they serve.

While I commend the state and acknowledge strides in raising the minimum wage, it’s crucial that wage adjustments for DSPs are aligned accordingly and commensurate wages have not been provided to DSPs who are supporting people with IDD to be active community members across all Medicaid waiver programs.

These jobs require a level of knowledge, experience, skill, professionalism, and compassion that is valuable to the families of the individuals we care for.

Without action this spring, DSP wages will have only risen 37 cents more than minimum wage over the last five years. This is insufficient given their responsibilities and the professional skills they bring to their roles. Let’s not wait any longer.

The seven state institutions are well-funded, but the trend and preference clearly lean towards community-based living. This country has made tremendous strides in deinstitutionalizing individuals living with disabilities by integrating them into neighboring communities. It is time for Illinois to continue to lead by example, advocating for modernization and improved funding for community services that support our most vulnerable populations. This will take the ongoing support and investment from the State of IL into a fragile community system and prevent any further deterioration.

Advocates — please call your legislators today. Tell them what you’re going through. And urge them to do better.


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 Riverbender.com


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
sschrage@cuinc.org
(618)462-4593 

 


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 swild@cuinc.org 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 www.cuinc.org.    

For media inquiries, please contact:
Stephanie Schrage
sschrage@cuinc.org
(618)462-4593 


“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.

Winning

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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. 


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

Monday, September 4th, 2023

Introduction 

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. 

Conclusion 

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.


Empowering Independence & Inclusion through AbilityOne partnerships

Monday, August 28th, 2023

In a world that thrives on diversity and inclusivity, creating opportunities for individuals with disabilities is not just a moral imperative, but also a strategic advantage for any society. The AbilityOne Program stands as a shining example of how public-private partnerships can drive empowerment, independence, and inclusion for people with disabilities while delivering high-quality products and services to the federal government.

Understanding the AbilityOne Program:
The AbilityOne Program, administered by the U.S. AbilityOne Commission, is a federal initiative that creates job opportunities for individuals with significant disabilities through contracts with nonprofit organizations. These organizations employ individuals with disabilities to produce goods and services for the federal government, fostering an environment of self-sufficiency and personal growth.

Key Objectives and Benefits

Employment Opportunities: The program provides meaningful employment to people with disabilities, enabling them to contribute to society while achieving financial independence.

Inclusion and Diversity: AbilityOne promotes an inclusive workplace, demonstrating that diversity is not a limitation but a strength that can drive innovation and creativity.

High-Quality Products and Services: The goods and services delivered through the AbilityOne Program meet stringent federal standards, underscoring the capabilities of a diverse workforce.

Positive Economic Impact: By generating jobs and contributing to the economy, the program reduces the reliance on government assistance programs.

Community Building: The program nurtures a sense of community among participants, fostering personal relationships and support networks that extend beyond the workplace.

The Numbers

Approximately 450 non profit agencies across the country participate as partners to the AbilityOne Program employing over 40,000 individuals  with significant disabilities. In Illinois alone there are 701,035 individuals who identify as having a significant disability. The state has 15 providers that employ over 500 individuals including 27 Veterans through the program.

While this is a start we still have a long way to go towards providing equitable opportunities for these individuals. According to a recent study published by SourceAmerica the  Unemployment rate in the state is still 54.4% for disabled workers, compared to a much lower overall unemployment rate of 4%. (US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Challenge Unlimited (CU) employs approximately 342 individuals across our AbilityOne Contract Sites. CU AbilityOne employee, Matt Driver,  began working at the Paul Findlay Federal Courthouse through the AbilityOne Program and recently celebrated his 10 year work anniversary. He has also been acknowledged for perfect attendance and has since moved into his own apartment.  Check out what Matt had to say about his experiences in the caption below!

Matthew is pictured in a blue Challenge Unlimited t-shirt holding the gift card that he was presented with for perfect attendance this year.

“Challenges” and Future Directions

While the AbilityOne Program has achieved commendable success, there are challenges to address:

Awareness and Advocacy: Raising awareness about the program is crucial to attracting more customers and expanding the scope of employment opportunities.

Skill Development: Investing in ongoing training and skill development ensures that participants can excel in their roles and adapt to changing demands.

Technology Integration: Embracing technological advancements can open up new avenues for individuals with disabilities to contribute meaningfully.

In conclusion, the AbilityOne Program stands as a beacon of hope and progress in the realm of disability employment and inclusion. By empowering individuals with disabilities to unleash their potential, the program doesn’t just create jobs—it creates a sense of purpose, belonging, and a brighter future for everyone involved.  As employers look to fill the gap in today’s labor force they need to consider people with disabilities, who are a valuable largely untapped labor pool. Not only does employing people with disabilities fill an urgent need for businesses, but it can also have a holistic positive economic impact that can benefit the larger community.


Challenge Unlimited Appoints Two New Board Members

Wednesday, August 16th, 2023

ALTON, IL – (August 15, 2023) — Challenge Unlimited (CU), a national nonprofit organization headquartered in Alton, IL, is pleased to announce the appointment of two new members to its Board of Directors.

Geri Lynn Arrindell                                                               Bruce Malone

Alton resident Bruce Malone, a highly regarded leader in education and the community, was appointed to the CU board of directors in March for a three-year term. A retired educator, his leadership experience includes a ten-year term as the vice president of the board of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and serving on the board of directors for Madison County and the Alton Housing Authority. Malone also served as president of the Staunton (IL) Federation of Teachers.

As a parent of a daughter with Down Syndrome, Malone has an affinity for Challenge Unlimited’s mission. “I certainly understand first-hand the struggles faced by people with disabilities,” he says. “I envision a period of growth for Challenge and am excited to be part of that process.”

Geri Lynn Arrindell, a licensed attorney in Illinois and Missouri with the law firm Mickes O’Toole, joined CU’s board of directors in May for a three-year term. A resident of University City, MO, she is also general counsel for the organization. Her multi-faceted experience delivers an exceptional set of skills to CU.

Arrindell’s legal experience includes serving as litigation counsel to various entities including nonprofit organizations. Her background also includes arbitrations and administrative proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board and the Illinois Labor Relations Board. Prior to earning her law degree, Arrindell was a licensed clinical social worker with Hope, a nonprofit agency headquartered in Springfield, IL. Hope educates, treats and cares for children with Autism and other developmental disabilities. In addition to being the intake coordinator and program director for community-based programs, she was also instrumental in acquiring and opening several group homes.

“It is an honor to serve on the board which allows me to combine my passion for supporting the disabled community with my extensive legal experience,” she says. “I plan to assist the organization with risk management, policies, procedures and any other area in which I can be a resource.”

Tom Morrissey, chairperson of CU’s board of directors, is looking forward to the contributions each new member will bring to the organization. “Bruce and Geri Lynn have tremendous depth of knowledge and will be invaluable assets to our team,” Morrissey states. “Each is committed to furthering our mission of supporting people with all disabilities by providing pathways to independence through meaningful employment. We are delighted to have them join the board.”

About Challenge Unlimited

For more than 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, federal and state government agencies by providing pathways to independence through meaningful employment for individuals with all abilities. 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 www.cuinc.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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