**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. 

Residential Options Participates in “The Kindness Rocks” Project

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

Residential Options, an affiliate of Challenge Unlimited, provides services to individuals with disabilities. Residential Options assists approximately 135 individuals live in the community at seventeen homes in Madison County and seven homes in St Clair County and several individuals residing in their own home. With current restrictions in Illinois, many of our residents have not been able to go to work or have activities in the community like normal. We continue to try to be creative as an organization in providing fun, educational, and new ways for our residents to interact with each other and in the community. We have chosen to participate in The Kindness Project in the upcoming year. Kindness Rocks is a viral trend where people paint rocks or stones with inspirational messages, sayings, images, and colors. Then they leave them in public places for people to find. The intention is to spread kindness and love to people around the world. We hope that people will find our rocks and then post pictures and/or stories about finding the rock using the #ROkindness hashtag so that we can share with our residents.

Through a generous donation made by Element Turf and Outdoor Solutions, we were able to provide our residents with rocks to decorate and leave in the community while on walks in the park or on their “socially distanced” trips into other community locations. The back of the rock will direct people to use the #ROkindness hashtag when posting about the found rocks to help share kindness and joy on our Facebook page. We will also share the finds with our residents who will delight in their rocks being found. We can’t wait for our rocks to be found!

Residential Options Participates in 2019 Speak Up Speak Out Summit

Thursday, October 31st, 2019

By Carina Jones (Director of Clinical Services at Residential Options)

The self-advocacy committee, a committee comprised of 15 clients from Residential Options, participated in the Speak Up Speak Out Summit held in Springfield, Illinois at the Wyndham Hotel and Conference Center October 28th through the 30Th. This year’s theme was “Hear My Voice, Support My Choice”. The summit was developed by the ARC of Illinois and funded by the Illinois Council on Development Disabilities. The clients were able to apply for financial assistance to assist with hotel, registration and transportation fees.

Clients arrived in Springfield on October 28th for early registration, since the summit started its sessions on October 29th. Arriving early allowed the clients to participate in a tour of the state capital. While legislators were in session, their schedules did not allow time for individual conversations with the clients. The clients were excited to see the offices and meeting rooms while stating, “We will be back to talk another time.” After the tour, the clients shopped at the local mall and had dinner before resting so that they were ready for the next day’s events.

The event was comprised of keynote speakers, break out sessions, and Fun time! The clients were able to listen to stories from individuals with disabilities who have faced adversity and still accomplished their goals and achieved their dreams. The breakout sessions included trainings on Respect, the power off self-advocacy, and internet safety, just to name a few. The clients were even able to sit on a panel and given advice and support to other individuals. One of our clients stated, “It felt good to be called on to share with the group…. I felt really good.”

As always, the event makes sure to make time to have fun and boy do they know how to party. A Halloween themed dance was held on October 29th and everyone was encouraged to dress up while dancing to all the latest hits provided by the DJ. Now if dancing wasn’t your thing, then a Wii was set up for some good competitive bowling. The next morning, all the clients were dragging into breakfast saying things like, “Boy, I partied like it was 1965!” Another client said, “I’m getting old.” But everyone agreed the dance was one of the top favorites when discussing activities that are provided at the summit.

It was sad on Wednesday when all things came to an end as the team packed all their bags and loaded the van back up to head back to Alton. One client stated, “take me back.” The self-advocacy had one last meeting over lunch to discuss the event and what they had learned. One client said, “I learned that in order to get respect I have to give it, that’s where it starts, and that’s with my staff, my family and my friends.” Another client stated, “I learned how to make an action plan to help me achieve some of my goals- moving out on my own. I had to list when I wanted to do this and who I needed to get help from.” Staff stated, “it was nice to see the clients taking notes and actually paying attention.” Everyone agreed that the summit was an event not to miss and that they must continue to work to stay on the committee so that they can attend next year’s summit.

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

Friday, June 7th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

SourceAmerica Grassroots Conference 2018

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

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

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

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

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