Wednesday, February 15th, 2023

Free Income Tax Preparation Assistance Available

CHICAGO – Individuals living with disabilities, low-to-moderate income families and older adults needing assistance filing their 2022 income taxes can receive free help through several trusted programs across Illinois. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), American Association of Retired Persons’ (AARP) Foundation Tax-Aide Program, and the Ladder Up Tax Assistance Program, provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals in select locations statewide.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), American Association of Retired Persons’ (AARP) Foundation Tax-Aide Program, and the Ladder Up Tax Assistance Program, provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals in select locations statewide.

“It is important for Illinois taxpayers to know they can receive help from qualified volunteers certified by the IRS at various locations statewide,” said Illinois Department of Revenue Director David Harris. “These individuals are ready and willing to assist taxpayers in filing their state and federal tax returns accurately and on time by the April 18 deadline.”

How taxpayer assistance is provided and when services are available varies by region, based upon volunteer capacity.

“Even modest tax refunds can be a significant boost to older adults’ household budgets,” said Illinois Department on Aging Director Paula Basta. “By seeking free tax prep assistance from a trusted local program, you have the best likelihood of getting your full refund and of getting your taxes done on time, correctly and hassle-free.”

The IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs offer free basic tax return preparation to qualified individuals needing assistance in preparing their own tax returns. People making $60,000 or less, persons with disabilities and limited English-speaking taxpayers can take advantage of this service. In addition, the TCE program offers free tax help, particularly for those who are 60 years of age and older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors. VITA and TCE sites are generally located at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls, and other convenient locations across the country.

The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Program provides free tax assistance, with a special focus on taxpayers over the age of 50 or who have low-to-moderate income. Availability is determined at the local or community level. AARP membership is not required to receive assistance.

In Chicagoland, the Ladder Up Tax Assistance Program (TAP) provides free basic tax return preparation for families earning up to $60,000 and individuals earning up to $32,000 annually. IRS-certified volunteer tax preparers assist in filing federal and state returns.

Taxpayers can search for a free tax assistance provider closest to them by visiting IDOR’s website Individuals with questions should contact IDOR’s Taxpayer Assistance Division at 800-732-8866.

Taxpayers may also visit any of IDOR’s offices located in Chicago, Des Plaines, Fairview Heights, Marion, Rockford, and Springfield to receive assistance. Staff at these locations can help with any Illinois state income tax filing inquiries and are available weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Click the link below for full details from the Illinois Department of Revenue on who qualifies and how to participate in the Program: Free Income Tax Preparation Assistance Available

Challenge Unlimited celebrates National Apprenticeship Week

Monday, November 14th, 2022

November 14th thru November 20th

Today is the 85th Anniversary of the National Apprenticeship Act and all week long we will be celebrating the U.S. Department of Labor’s eighth annual National Apprenticeship Week (NAW). NAW was established by the U.S. Department of Labor to celebrate the significant impact Registered Apprenticeship programs have had in re-building our economy, advancing racial and gender equity, building a pipeline to good, quality jobs, and supporting underserved communities. Hundreds of NAW events and activities will be taking place all over the country, to include open houses, skill competitions, community forums, apprentice graduations, business open houses, high school and college career fairs, apprenticeship signing days, industry roundtable events, diversity and inclusion dialogues, and more.  

“Registered Apprenticeship is a proven way for community members to obtain pathways to secure careers in many fields,” said Charlotte Hammond. “We are proud to support National Apprenticeship Week and to showcase the impact apprenticeships have on building the workforce in this country.”  

Last month we hosted our Department of Labor Apprenticeship Graduation Ceremony to celebrate our Grounds and Custodial Apprenticeship Programs. To view the full ceremony and learn more about the history of our apprenticeship program visit our blog.  

About National Apprenticeship Week National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) is a nationwide celebration that offers established by the U.S. Department of Labor to bring together leading business, labor, education, apprentices, and other critical partners to showcase the impact Registered Apprenticeship programs have on building the American workforce, as well as highlight the successes and value of Registered Apprenticeship for re-building our economy, advancing racial and gender equity, building a pipeline to good, quality jobs, and supporting underserved communities. Registered Apprenticeships provide the opportunity to assist and propel individuals who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality by allowing apprentices to earn while they learn and providing a pathway to well-paying careers.  

NAW gives employers, including sponsors and providers, the opportunity to showcase their programs, facilities, and apprentices so that career seekers can learn more about the benefits of Registered Apprenticeship and the programs that are available in their communities. During NAW events, apprentices have a platform to share their apprenticeship experience and how it has transformed their lives. For more information visit 

In honor of all who serve we celebrate Veteran’s Day.

Friday, November 11th, 2022

Veterans Day, November 11, is a remembrance set aside to honor those who have defended our country in peace and in war. Veterans serve with unwavering commitment to protecting our nation, many times at a great personal sacrifice to themselves and their families. In recognition of this observance, Challenge Unlimited honors, and thanks all veterans for their service. 

President Biden’s proclamation honoring Veterans Day states: 

“Today, we honor generations of patriots who have earned the title of “American veteran” — a badge of courage that unites the finest group of former service members the world has ever known. With their selfless sacrifice, our Armed Forces have forged and defended the very idea of America — a promise of freedom and equality, democracy and justice, possibility, and hope. We owe them an incredible debt that can never be fully repaid.” 

We asked our own Vice President of Operations and Service Member James Porter why he was called to military service and what Veteran’s Day means to him. Read James’s candid and heartfelt response below: 

“I am responsible for the day-to-day operations of a 6,500 Soldier formation. I have roughly 100 full time civilians and Soldiers who manage those operations and I am responsible for providing them guidance and direction. 

The first thing that comes to mind for me is the significance of Veterans Day. On the 11th hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the Japanese signed an armistice ending World War I. The timing of the ceremony and the significance of the event itself are forever remembered in the history books. 

I think of the fact that so many men and boys left their homes, then as we do now, to fight a war/s that we often do not understand the reasons or meaning as to why we fight. We only understand that our mission and our commitment is to protect our country and this world from tyranny.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to                               do nothing”            John Stuart Mill 

I stop, pray and I think of the sacrifice of these men. So many never had the chance to marry, become fathers or live their dreams because they made the ultimate sacrifice in service of their country. And I am thankful for those who survived the horrific events of war and who still sacrificed so that I and others could serve in better circumstances. 

I think of my father, James Porter, and father-n-law, Jack Verner, who were both wounded, shot, in Vietnam. These two African American men willingly sacrificed to ensure that I and others could not only serve, but have a life filled with opportunities that they themselves were not able to experience. 

I can go on and on about Veterans Day. There is so much to take in during the day. I honor those who came before me by taking time on that day to speak with the veterans in my life who have made a profound impact on my accomplishments and achievements.” 

James was an active duty service member from 1993  to 1997 and currently serves as the Chief of Staff, 311TH Expeditionary Sustainment Command for the United States Army Reserves out of Los Angeles, California.

Thank you to James and all our military service members who have served and continue to serve our country, as well as those who lost their lives in the name of freedom. We salute you! We support you! And We will always be grateful..

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

Thursday, November 10th, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 31st, 2022

The Class of 2022 Graduation Ceremony can be viewed here:

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

For over 60 years, Challenge Unlimited, a national nonprofit headquartered in Alton, IL, has secured employment opportunities for the individuals with disabilities, the disadvantaged and veterans so they may achieve their highest level of independence. The agency is delighted to announce that nearly 50 of their janitorial and grounds keeping apprentices have graduated from their DOL-Registered Apprenticeship Program this month. Many of the graduates are individuals living with significant disabilities.  

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

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

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

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

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

About Challenge Unlimited 

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

NDEAM #SundaySuccessStory

Sunday, October 16th, 2022

Shane Kelly – Challenge Unlimited 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#NDEAM2022 #SundaySuccessStory #EmploymentStories #ShanesStory

Local artist featured in National Online Art Auction

Thursday, October 13th, 2022

Art, Awareness, and Ability – #ThursdayswithTunstell  

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

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

Tunstell Griffin is an artist that has been working on his skills for over a decade. Inspired by traditional landscapes of Bob Ross, he is motivated by a desire to find calm and peace and has learned that creating art to deal with his anger and anxiety, is a healthy way to cope. His story starts out with grief, the loss of his parents and younger sister at an early age, and unfortunately like many young black men lacking a support system, follows with an incarceration.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NDEAM #SundaySuccessStory

Sunday, October 9th, 2022

Sandy Norman – Challenge Unlimited 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#NDEAM2022 #SundaySuccessStory #EmploymentStories #SandysStory

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

Monday, October 3rd, 2022

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

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

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

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


**Advocacy Alert** Direct Support Professionals need your help!

Tuesday, September 27th, 2022

Tell Congress the Direct Care Workforce Needs Support

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) leverage the services of direct support professionals (DSPs) in order to live and work in their homes and communities. However, while we have made progress in Illinois in recent years, the pandemic and high inflation has eroded the impact of higher wage rates. As a result, we have seen a substantial loss of DSPs to the field and hours of service. The loss of DSPs across the field has left many people without stable access to home- and community-based supports.

Because we need national data to understand the scope of the workforce crisis before we can fully solve the problem, the creation of a standard occupational classification (SOC) for DSPs is essential to ensuring people with I/DD have access to critical supports and services. A unique SOC for DSPs would help states and the federal government collect data on demographics and turnover rates. This, in turn, will help inform policies to address the workforce shortage. A DSP SOC will also help states more accurately set rates, which could positively impact DSP wages.

Tell your members of Congress today to support the bipartisan “Recognizing the Role of Direct Support Professionals Act” (H.R. 4779 / S. 1437), which requires the Office of Management and Budget to establish a separate category within the Standard Occupational Classification system for DSPs.

Thanks to ANCOR(American Network of Community Options & Resources) you can click the link below to easily communicate your support to Illinois members of Congress for these important issues.

Tell Congress: The Direct Care Workforce Needs Support!

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

Nationwide campaign will take place in October 

Thursday, September 22nd, 2022

Challenge Unlimited Joins Broad Effort to Observe National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Alton, IL — September 22, 2022 — Challenge Unlimited today announced its participation in National Disability Employment Awareness Month, an annual awareness campaign that takes place each October. The purpose of National Disability Employment Awareness Month is to educate about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. This year’s theme is “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation.” 

The history of National Disability Employment Awareness Month traces back to 1945 when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month. 

“Our national recovery from the pandemic cannot be completed without the inclusion of all Americans, in particular people with disabilities,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh. “Their contributions have historically been vital to our nation’s success and are more important today than ever. We must build an economy that fully includes the talent and drive of those with disabilities.” 

Reflecting this year’s theme, throughout the month, Challenge Unlimited will be sharing success stories of those with disabilities and their contributions to the workforce to educate the community on disability employment issues and its commitment to a diverse, equitable and inclusive work culture.  

“Challenge Unlimited is proud to be a part of this year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month,” said Charlotte Hammond. “We want to spread the important message that we value all perspectives, including those of individuals with disabilities.” 

DSP Spotlight – Crystal Wilborn presented with Paul & Louis Baker Award

Wednesday, September 14th, 2022
Sandy Currans, daughter of Paul & Louise Baker presents Residential Options DSP, Crystal Wilborn with the Baker Award for Excellence in Service

Direct Support Professionals provide services that directly affect those in their care. They have a huge impact on the quality of life for individuals living with disabilities. Each year at Residential Options we celebrate these essential workers during DSP Recognition Week by presenting one such professional, who has displayed this excellence and put it into action with, the Baker Award.

Our 2022 recipient is Crystal Wilborn. She has been with Residential Options for almost 19 years and is currently AM DSP at Lewis and Clark. Crystal does her job very well and is a shining example of a dedicated DSP. She always goes the extra mile when it comes to making sure the residents needs are met, both assisting the individuals in being as independent as possible and in helping them learn new skills to advance their independence. She takes residents grocery shopping with her and have them assist with the process so they can learn those life skills. 

She has a good relationship with the guardians and helps to foster the relationship between the individuals and the families. She often facilitates activities for small groups and encourages the individuals to invite friends from neighboring homes to participate, ultimately creating a community that residents want to be a part of. Crystal communicates well with medical professionals and encourages the individuals to speak up and advocate for themselves when they are at appointments.

Diane Tebbe, VP of Residential Options pictured with Sandy Currans.

Crystal has been a constant at Lewis and Clark. She is always willing to share her knowledge with new staff. She is proactive in training them and answering any questions they have, and always willing to pitch in and help with covering shifts when needed. She also thinks of creative ways to help with scheduling issues ensuring that clients are always well cared for. 

Crystal finds unique opportunities for the individuals to participate in activities and engage with the community. If it involves her coming in on her time off to ensure they are able to participate, that is what she does. Crystal will plan special outings for the individuals, even if they are the only person that likes a particular event. Specifically, she plans a day every year for one of the individuals to go to Six Flags, since he is the only person in the home that likes amusement park rides. She has purchased holiday themed gifts for the individuals and even come in on her time off to make sure they receive them. 

Crystal has been a valuable asset to both the individuals residing at Lewis and Clark and the staff that work there. Her knowledge, willingness to help, and the respect she has for the those in her care are just a few of the reasons she not only deserves this award but why she is an asset and an example to the entire Challenge Family.

Thank you Crystal for everything you do!

#DSPRW2022 #WeAreCU 

View the entire presentation below.

2022 SourceAmerica AbilityOne Grassroots Advocacy in D.C.

Wednesday, August 24th, 2022

“Our nation’s workforce is more successful, more productive, and more innovative when people of all abilities participate. When the right person is matched to the right job, everyone wins. No one can deliver this message more effectively than employees with disabilities. These employees and their families can speak to the real-life impact of programs that benefit people with disabilities, like the AbilityOne Program, and can personalize the issue for policymakers. SourceAmerica’s grassroots advocacy program makes sure these personal stories are heard by key policymakers and raises awareness about how different perspectives and skill sets transform businesses for the better.”

The SourceAmerica Grassroots Advocacy Conference brings together AbilityOne employee self-advocates, family members, and nonprofit representatives to discuss the policy issues affecting them. The conference focuses on educating policymakers on the importance of programs that benefit individuals with disabilities.

Conference agenda items included discussions on current issues affecting disability employment, helping self-advocates tell their personal stories, listening to inspiring speakers, and meetings with members of Congress or their staff.

Bobby Johnson, an AbilityOne employee and team member, attended the Conference this year and shared his success story. We are so proud of Bobby and everything he has accomplished. At Challenge Unlimited, we are grateful to SourceAmerica for hosting the Conference, giving AbilityOne employees a platform to advocate for themselves, and for bringing providers and staff together.

Advocacy Alert! Build Back Better. Prioritize Home & Community Based Services

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2022

U.S. Senate Passage of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022: Statement by IARF President & CEO Josh Evans

August 8, 2022 by Josh Evans

“This weekend the U.S. Senate passed the $430 billion Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which among several important measures, extended American Rescue Plan enhanced health insurance subsidies ensuring as many as 13 million eligible Americans can maintain health insurance through the marketplace. This action will help individuals above 400 percent of the poverty level avoid costly increases to coverage on the marketplace.”

“While we congratulate the U.S. Senate on passage of this important set of measures, we’re disappointed the package did not address the longstanding needs of older Americans and persons with disabilities through investing in home and community-based services (HCBS). A centerpiece of President Biden’s Build Back Better Act, the proposed $150 billion investment in HCBS – a once in a generation investment to help individuals with disabilities live independently and increase wages & benefits for direct care staff – was not included in the negotiated bill that cleared the U.S. Senate.”

“As many as 1.5 million persons with disabilities receive federal and state funded supports from upwards of 4.5 million direct care staff. Further, thousands of individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities remain on lengthy waiting lists for services, unsure when they might receive needed assistance. A significant federal investment in HCBS would mean expansion of services across the country, increased job opportunities for persons with disabilities, and a path towards livable wages for direct care staff.”

“IARF will continue to support fellow stakeholders and national coalition efforts to ensure Americans with disabilities are a priority of Congress. Although our efforts were unsuccessful now, never before have the priorities of persons with disabilities and direct care workers been as prominent in the national dialogue. We will prevail.”

To find out more about IARF and how you can advocate for those with disabilities visit:

5 Costly Floor Care Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Tuesday, June 1st, 2021

written by Chris Kuhn

Floor care is complicated, and when you add factors like snow, ice, and salt to the equation, finding the right floor care solution can seem nearly impossible. Businesses commonly make the same floor care mistakes over and over, and these mistakes can cost your business a lot of time, money, and labor to fix. Below we highlight some of the most common commercial floor mistakes and how they can be avoided.  

Mistake # 1 Eliminating the normal floor care maintenance because of budget constraints. 
Floors get an abundance of foot traffic (in all kinds of weather) and inadvertent damage from objects being dropped on and dragged or pushed across them. Properly maintaining the floor of your commercial building requires more care and attention than a quick mopping with soapy water or vacuuming whenever the floor looks dirty. A floor that is properly maintained and clean fosters a professional image for your place of business. That image goes a long way in attracting new clients and maintaining old ones.  Additionally, properly cleaning your flooring also reduces the risk of accidents. Slips, trips and fall injuries make up almost 20% of all job-related injuries. Unsuitable maintenance can slash the life of your floors by as much as half.  We understand the drive to cut costs can be strong, but even if your floors do not look dirty, they are. The main two issues with failing to regularly clean carpets and finish hard surfaces regularly are these. First, flooring manufacturers has set a regular cleaning schedule you must meet to have the full protection of your warranty. This is often yearly or twice yearly. Second, even if the floor does not look too bad, the dirt, grit and grime allowed to accumulate is ground into the floors surface and will remain even with vacuuming and mopping. Causing wear and dulling that is bad for the floor’s overall appearance and usable lifespan. Lastly, not regularly cleaning your floors means that small problems can grow over time, and present bigger and more costly cleaning challenges later. 


Mistake #2 Service providers that lacks transparency in their pricing. 
Choosing a service provider that lacks clear pricing will put you behind the eight ball every time. Not only should you know precisely what you are buying and what it will cost, you deserve the opportunity to ask questions, check references, to be sure you are receiving the best value for your facility. A service provider that is looking for a long-term partnership is happy to provide you with clear pricing and references to compare your options. A true partner will take the time to understand your budget and pricing constraints and provide value added solutions to work through these issues. It is also wise to ask the service provider if they have achieved professional certifications like the ISSA’s CIMS as they have been scrutinized and assessed as to whether or not they work to industry best standards.  

Mistake #3 Enlisting a cleaning company that uses the wrong equipment or poorly maintained equipment. 
Floor care equipment takes a beating and must be frequently checked, serviced, and even replaced. If your service provider is trying to cut corners with equipment service or replacement, it may be saving THEM money, but it can cost YOU. Poorly maintained or dated equipment is abusive to both soft and hard surface floors and will often fail to provide the results your facility deserves.  

Mistake # 4 Utilizing a company with poorly trained technicians. 
There are right ways and wrong ways to clean your floors.  A knowledgeable service provider will practice former and avoid the latter. Do you have vinyl flooring? Concrete? Wood? Brick? Something else? Service provider employees will know exactly how specific floor types should be cleaned, leaving your floor as clean and attractive as possible. Having your floors cleaned by people who are unfamiliar with the proper cleaning techniques for your individual flooring will likely lead to damaged floors when the cleaners are finished. The newest technology in floor care equipment and chemistry requires a higher level of technician training. In fact, some companies continue to use older, dated, and ineffective methods for the simple fact that it is easy to train new workers on. That is good for them, but, NOT good for you. Commercial floor care maintenance has become far more science-based than in the past. We understand a great deal more about the chemistry that goes with how to treat different stains, remove, apply finish, and work closely with the flooring manufacturer’s recommendations about their individual products. If your service provider is failing to adequately train their people on everything from how to use equipment most efficiently, to chemical safety, to spot testing new products or compounds, you are not getting the service or level of clean you deserve. 

Mistake #5 Using the predictive approach instead of a reactive approach to floor maintenance.  

  • Predictive – This is the “use technology to forecast when a problem will occur and provide maintenance accordingly” approach. 
  • Reactive – This is the “fix it when it breaks” approach. 

 The most common type of maintenance employed by facility managers is the “reactive” approach. According to a post by Akita Box on preventative maintenance planning, 85% of total maintenance is spent on reactive maintenance. With budget restraints of driving the decision making, the latter approach may be costing facility managers more money in the long run. Managers typically make two key commercial floor care maintenance mistakes:  

  1. Not having it cleaned or finished the right way (based on floor type and traffic patterns) 
  2. Waiting until the floor is visibly dirty or damaged to have it deep cleaned or stripped and finished. 


Both may be done for cost-saving purposes—and both will probably cost you more money in the long run. Properly caring for flooring can seem like an excess expense to many managers. That is, until they discoverthe cost of restoring or replacing the commercial flooring. The best solution:A floor preventative maintenance program. By having your floors regularly cleaned and maintained, you can cut a lot of high-cost repair or restoration work—and even potentially push back a planned carpet replacement. A consistent maintenance program can extend the life of flooring by many years depending on the facility and traffic pattern and that can add up to tens of thousands of dollars in savings a year. 

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