AbilityOne Spotlight – #MissionMonday – Jerid Dunavan

Monday, June 5th, 2023

Professional Grounds Management Society® (PGMS®) Announces 239th Certified Grounds Technician

Forest Hill, MD (May 2023) – The Professional Grounds Management Society® (PGMS®) has announced that Jerid Dunavan with Challenge Unlimited Inc. has become the 239th grounds management professional to successfully complete its Certified Grounds Technician (CGT) program. Those achieving the CGT professional designation must have first accomplished a required level of education and on-the-job experience and then successfully complete an examination process administered by PGMS. CGTs are required to maintain their professional designation by accumulating 35 hours of continuing education every five years.

For more information on becoming a Certified Grounds Technician (CGT) contact us or visit:

About the Professional Grounds Management Society® – Serving the profession for over 100 years, PGMS® is an individual membership society of grounds professionals dedicated to advancing the grounds management profession through education and professional development. Further information on PGMS® is available online at

Fun Fact about Jerid: His faithful companion Daisy (pictured below) is as they say “man’s best friend” and her ears are longer than her legs. Isn’t she adorable? Thanks for sharing the photo Jerid and we congratulate you on your certification! We are proud to have you on the AbilityOne Team at Scott Air Force Base.

Leadership & Development that fosters a culture of learning.

Wednesday, May 31st, 2023
Challenge Unlimited Delivers a High Quality and Consistent Learning Experience

At Challenge Unlimited we believe in creating an environment that fosters learning and growth for every member of our team.

“Seeing our organization make the shift from a check-the-box compliance-based training mindset, to an organization that values learning at its core! Not only can we launch consistent training company-wide to ensure that all employees, regardless of location, receive the same quality of training – we can also address the learning needs of specific teams and individuals to support employee growth and development.”

Michelle Matsche, Challenge Unlimited’s Director of Training & Development was recently interviewed by the team at BizLibrary highlighting the success of our partnership.  Below is an excerpt from that interview.

“Consistency. Consistency. Consistency.

Let’s say you’re on a road trip across the United States. You stop at McDonald’s in every state and order the same meal each time. No matter the state or part of the country, the experience is the same, everything from the drive-thru script to the taste. It’s part of the reason you always stop. You know you can always expect the same quality, and it’s reliable (and who could turn down hot, crispy fries and a Big Mac – not us!).  

The same concept applies when delivering a training experience to a dispersed workforce.  It can be challenging to ensure that the same information is being conveyed in the same way across multiple different locations. But this is where an online learning management system can help.  

A few years ago, our client, Challenge Unlimited, was going through a season of growth and needed assistance keeping up with training and development. Because their workforce is spread across many office locations and cities, they knew finding a partner to help them stay organized and on top of all their initiatives was key to ensuring a consistent training experience.  

During their research, they came across BizLibrary and loved everything that BizLMS and our content had to offer.

Michelle Matsche, Director of Training and Development, recalls that BizLibrary had “everything we were looking for in one place and an amazing implementation team and ongoing level of support.”  

The ability to search content, track training, and have a dedicated partner was going to bring positive changes to their training experience.  

Challenge Unlimited’s Menu of Programs

Training is a big part of the culture at Challenge Unlimited. No matter if it’s their day one or five-year anniversary, every employee is involved in training for their own personal and professional development. The learning programs fall into three categories:  

  • Risk and Compliance: 
    • All staff participates in risk and compliance training every year, and depending on which department an employee works in, they may have additional specific HR or safety training. Partnering with BizLibrary gives them content that can be accessed anywhere and is current and credible. By utilizing on-demand content, Challenge Unlimited saves time and money associated with travel or in-person training.  
  • Managing Accessibility: 
    • Challenge Unlimited’s mission is to provide opportunities to individuals with disabilities. Because of this, having off-the-shelf content that educates their employees on how to serve those with disabilities was of the utmost importance. Additionally, they also employ individuals with disabilities, so having a partner that provides accessible options like transcripts, closed captioning, or downloadable flyers were non-negotiable.  
  • Culture and Leadership Influence: 
    • Creating cohesive teams and a growth-minded culture is something that Challenge Unlimited values highly. This is not achieved overnight, but by empowering their leaders through development, creating cohorts for learning, offering hybrid training, and giving elective learning opportunities to all employees, they are able to increase retention and employee satisfaction.  

As we dive into the specifics of some of their programs, you’ll see why in order to have a culture of continuous learning they needed to ensure development opportunities are offered to every employee in a consistent way. 


From day one, employees are immersed in an onboarding training experience designed to showcase who Challenge Unlimited is, provide education surrounding serving those with disabilities, and assist with on-the-job training. On an employee’s first day, they used to attend training in person at their headquarters in Alton, Illinois.  

The L&D team quickly realized that because of the growth their organization was experiencing, they needed to shift to virtual to save on travel and lodging expenses. Now, no matter where an employee is hired, they all “attend” the same training.  

Training kicks off with a welcome video from the CEO explaining the importance and purpose of the development (we LOVE this idea). Next, employees are given time to go through their learning initiatives that include courses on everything they would need to know when beginning their career, like communicating with people with disabilities.

After they complete their general onboarding courses, they are provided location-specific training, depending on the role they perform.  

Safety and Compliance

Every year employees complete the required compliance training. It’s extremely important that employees are continually educated on how to be safe and respectful while at work.  

The emphasis placed on creating an equitable workforce allows them to achieve 100% participation from every single employee (I think we can all agree this is IMPRESSIVE!!). When compliance audits come around, the training team can easily pull the reports they need within BizLMS, and maintaining their accreditations is a breeze.   

Leadership Development

Don’t think we are finished yet! The program list keeps going. They offer a specific leadership training program to all of their leaders. Each year they conduct a needs assessment to identify any business challenges and use that information to decide on an overarching topic for their leadership program. The training team at Challenge Unlimited first assigned the Inclusive Mindset expert-led series from BizLibrary and asked their leaders the following questions:  

  1. How does this apply to you? 
  2. What are your challenges? 
  3. What comes easily to you?  

From the survey, they determined that this year’s big focus would be on psychological safety and inclusion. Then, each month covers a subtopic related to the focus. For example, one month was neurodiversity. Ahead of each month’s virtual discussion –hosted using hybrid classroom management within BizLMS—the leaders are assigned courses to watch on their own time. Then they come together to discuss what they learned in a space that promotes transparency and vulnerability.  

Challenge Unlimited didn’t want to stop there with training opportunities for their leaders. They recently implemented a mentorship program as well. There is an application process where the leaders can lay out their personal development goals, and then five to eight managers are chosen and paired with a member of the executive team.  

To kick off the program, they host a celebratory meet and greet where the mentors and mentees sit down and establish a goal plan. Once they have everything mapped out, it gets submitted to the training team who creates learning initiatives in BizLMS to assign content that specifically addresses each mentee’s unique goals.  

During the course of this five-month program, the pairs meet and discuss progress made, and the participants complete their on-demand learning. Once the program wraps, there is a graduation – Alexa play, “Pomp and Circumstance!”  

Training for Everyone

Last, but not least, each year the training team offers an elective learning series for all employees to participate in. This year they are coining the program the “Bizzle Buzz Coffee Talk” where they will go through the Science of Happiness at Work Expert Insights Series. Each month participants watch 12 to 15 minutes of the course, and then meet virtually on the last Thursday of the month to discuss what they learned.  

To encourage employees to participate, they offer an incentive for those who attend every session in the series. We’re just over here wondering if we can come!” (BizLibrary, 2023)

Click here view Michelle’s interview and read the entire article on BizLibrary’s website.

Michelle is pictured on the left at a Challenge Unlimited partnership volunteer event with the Alton, IL Chapter of the Knights of Columbus to raise funds for individuals with Intellectual Disabilities.

Michelle told our Corporate Marketing Manager,  “with BizLibrary, all of the functions we need are included in one Learning Management System. We can track in-person/classroom training and online sessions. We can upload all of our training content into the library. We have access to over 10,000 relevant, on-demand learning courses ranging from safety, to leadership, to computer programs, to individual health and wellness!”

Budget Update: We did it and “you” made a difference.

Wednesday, May 31st, 2023


On behalf of all of us at Challenge Unlimited we want to thank you those who contributed to our advocacy efforts to increase support for our DSP’s.

It takes a collaborative effort to make a difference for individuals with disabilities. As the legislature has been working to pass the budget we called out for help and many organizations and individuals answered that call.

You emailed your policy makers, you made calls to their offices and you helped make our efforts a success. Organizations like ours rely on collaboration and power in numbers to create a more equitable and inclusive policy system for individuals living with disabilities and we are grateful for the support we received from the community. Read the statement below from our partners at The Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities. (

IARF Statement on New State Budget with Disability, Behavioral Health Investments

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities, representing community providers of services for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities and serious mental illnesses, today issued the following statement after the final state budget proposal was acted on by the Illinois Legislature:

“This new state budget takes an important step forward to improve care for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Illinois and invest in our crisis mental health services and supports.

We initially opposed the $2 an hour wage increase for Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) proposed earlier this week, as inadequate. The $2.50 an hour increase, reached through intense negotiations and advocacy by our legislative champions, will help address our critical issues:

  • To make these jobs competitive with the minimum wage increases and wages offered at restaurants, retailers, etc.
  • To bring our state closer to compliance with a long-running Consent Decree mandating that persons with disabilities have opportunities to live in their communities. We have been out of compliance for six years in a row.
  • To help reduce a waitlist of nearly 15,000 people seeking care today, including those in state developmental centers such as Choate where the Administration has plans to move residents into community settings.

The extra dollars will help our members address a crisis in staffing that is reducing services available to those with disabilities in Illinois. We have to stay ahead of the growing state minimum wage to recruit and retain workers, and this increase will help do that.

Additionally, through partnership and collaboration, community providers will receive additional rate increases for crucial Medicaid mental health crisis services totaling $30 million. As the crisis system continues to expand in Illinois, these increases, on top of the historic $170 million increased investments included in last year’s budget, will continue to ensure these crucial services can be provided to those in need.

Again, thank you to the legislators who stepped up to ensure these investments were included in the budget, and to Gov. Pritzker and the legislative leaders for hearing our concerns. We will continue to build on the progress made in recent years to provide support to our social safety net.”

Josh Evans President and CEO

Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities


Below is more detailed information about what these advocacy efforts were able to achieve for individuals with disabilities:

Disability Services:

  • $2.50/hr DSP wage rate increase
    • Effective January 1, 2024
    • Maintains current guidance on implementation of wage rate, including regionality
  • $10 million to expand regionality factor to Community Day Services
    • Effective January 1, 2024
    • 15% rate factor for Cook and collar counties
  • $56.7 million for FY23 Guidehouse annualizations from FY23
  • $26 million for annualization of FY23 and FY24 Ligas placements
  • $27.6 million for required rate adjustment for home-based services
  • $12.5 million re-appropriation of one-time revenues for staffing supports from FY23 budget

Behavioral Health Services:

  • $30 million increase for Medicaid Mental Health – see below for full breakout of rates
    • $6.8 million for Mobile Crisis Response rates
    • $4 million for Crisis Intervention rates
    • $10.5 million for IATP rates
    • $1.2 million for Group Therapy rates
    • $500,000 for Family Therapy rates
    • $4 million for Community Support Group rates and
    • $3 million for Medication Monitoring rates
  • $170 million for Mental Health Grants
    • An increase of almost $5 million over FY23
  • $58 million for Community Transitions/Rebalancing
    • An increase of almost $5 million over FY23
  • $10 million for the Behavioral Health Workforce Center
  • $5 million for the BH Student Loan Repayment Program
    • This represents continued funding of the program, which will now also be expanded to include additional practitioner levels and higher grant amounts
  • $5 million for 988 Call Centers
  • $75 million in Mental Health Block Grants
    • $50 million in continued MH Block Grant funding
    • $25 million in ARPA MH Block Grant funding

Military Appreciation Month & Memorial Day – Land of the Free Because of the Brave – Gone but not forgotten

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2023

On May 30, 1999, Congress designated National Military Appreciation Month as a month-long observance. Congress chose May because of the many military related observances such as Memorial Day and Loyalty Day are celebrated and observed on that date.

National Military Appreciation Month, also known as Military Appreciation Month, is a month-long observance  recognized in the United States, dedicated to people who are currently in the military or have resigned from duty. Each year, the observance runs from May 1 to May 31. Not only do we pause on Memorial Day to remember the sacrifice and service of those who gave all, but the month also holds several other military anniversaries and events, including Military Spouse Appreciation Day and Armed Forces day. (, 2023)

We asked our Vice President of Operations, Army Colonel James Porter what Military Appreciation Month means to him. James has served in the United States Army for 31 years, here’s what he had to say about his service, and one particular Major who made an impact on his career and his life.

“May is a dynamic month for many reasons. First and foremost, it is Military Appreciation Month. Every day, I get to read and delight in stories of Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who have served honorably and faithfully. The stories are inspiring and uplifting and make me extremely proud to have served in my nations Army for 31 years.

Secondly, we celebrate Memorial Day in May. This year I wanted to share my memories of Major James Chinelo. James was on my Mobility team in 2015, 4th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), as we prepared for deployment. He was a high-speed officer whom many admired and emulated.

He was with us  for a brief period after we deployed to Kuwait. The command needed great officers to serve as liaisons in Iraq and James was immediately selected for such a distinct and highly important role. A few months later, James was rushed out of theater and back to the states. At the time it happened, I was not given details as to why he was suddenly returned home.

I was later informed that a few months after returning home, Major Chinelo died from a very aggressive form of cancer. To this day, I think of him often. At the time of his death, he left behind a wife and a newborn child. His absence still impacts me today as much as it impacted me when he was left my team. He was a great Husband, Father, Soldier, Leader and Friend.

Rest well James Chinelo. Well done thy good and faithful Soldier.”

Col. James Porter currently serves as the Chief of Staff, 311TH Expeditionary Sustainment Command for the United States Army Reserves out of Los Angeles, California.

We thank you James for your service, for sharing your story and for the reminder that as we celebrate this Memorial Day, we must remember the bravery and honor of all servicemen and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. Specifically, the many fallen soldiers who are gone but they are certainly not forgotten.

AbilityOne Authorized Providers Use Grants to Drive Results

Tuesday, April 18th, 2023


Clients Chris & Jim using the exercise equipment at our Skills Training Center in Alton, IL

SourceAmerica® offers a range of grants to help the AbilityOne® authorized providers in our national network to turn their ideas into reality. As an authorized provider Challenge Unlimited is so grateful for the opportunities that these funds help us to provide for our clients.

Challenge Unlimited: Boosting Client Health and Fitness
At Challenge Unlimited, Inc. we encourage our clients with disabilities to lead healthy lifestyles in and out of the workplace. We participate in the Health Matters Program™, which provides a nutrition and exercise curriculum for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, to support this Program we established gyms at three of our skill training centers. The gyms are anticipated to benefit 200 initial users, and this number is expected to grow over time.

Clients at our Skills Training Center in Quincy, Illinois. This Community Day Service helps keep clients healthy and fit.

At Challenge Unlimited we offset the cost of purchasing stationary bikes, treadmills, and free weights for these gyms through SourceAmerica’s Quality Work Environment Grant. Our organization’s staff members believe that onsite access and not charging gym membership fees have raised interest among those clients who would otherwise be discouraged from joining a traditional gym or fitness center due to cost or lack of convenience.

Read more this amazing Grant Opportunity and other organizations that were able to utilize funds through these grants on the SourceAmerica Website.

Thanks SourceAmerica! These funds help our organization boost available resources for our clients and provide healthy lifestyle education at our Skills Training Centers in Alton, Swansea, and Quincy, Illinois.

Challenge Unlimited Marketing Manager wants to engage the community in the mission

Tuesday, April 11th, 2023

Our Marketing Manager, Stephanie Schrage, chatted with Mark Ellebracht, on 107.1FM – The Big Z Radio last week.

Topics included services that we have to offer, our community engagement expansion initiatives and how we can help businesses fulfill their staffing needs while creating a diverse and inclusive workforce.

Check out the interview below! ⬇️⬇️

Pictured: Our Alton Skills Training Center volunteers do basic diagnostic tests on Chromebooks in the Technology Department at Alton High School. This partnership helps our clients gain new skills and ensures the students at AHS have the equipment needed to get their work done.

Click here to complete the contact form on or website💻 or give us a call 📞 (618)465-0044 to see how we can partner with you business or organization.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn for updates and success stories!

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

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