Careers Industries Executive Director Joe Greene invites visitors to a place he describes as one of Racine’s best kept secrets.
Richard, 52, has worked at Careers Industries for 33 years.
BY KATIE MATTESON
Joe Greene describes Careers Industries as one of Racine’s best kept secrets and he should know. Since 2009, Greene has served as the executive director for the nonprofit dedicated to “enriching the lives of people with disabilities.”
“In my 33 years of working in this field, I’ve never started a new day complaining that I gotta go to work,” Greene said. “Every day has its challenges, but it’s always a joy to know that I’m here for a purpose and can have such huge impact on people’s lives.”
The people he’s talking about are the 300 individuals who find meaningful work and supportive care as participants in the programs offered by the non-profit agency that was founded by a group of parents in 1971 as Country Crafts in a farmhouse on County Road KR.
For the past seven years, the multi-faceted organization has operated from a 52,000 square foot facility located at 4811 Washington Ave. (formerly known as Westgate Mall). This location doubled the size of their previous home of 15 years on Douglas Avenue on the Northside in a building that once housed Willie’s Sentry Foods.
They also operate a satellite location at 161 Industrial Dr. in Burlington.
Careers Industries offers three main programs to meet the needs of its participants.
Integrated Day Services
Approximately 100 adults with various developmental and/or other disabilities participate in this program, which provides on-site activities and community-based opportunities.
“At least 90 people are out in the community every day in our 18 vans,” Greene said. He explained that participants arrive with their packed lunches at between 8:20 – 8:45 a.m. each morning and head out around 9:30 a.m. into the community to volunteer to help deliver Meals on wheels, among other places. They return at about 1:30-2 p.m. and leave for home beginning at 2:30 p.m..
Greene said that 25 staff members work at the Racine location and six in Burlington to maintain a 1:6 ratio with participants.
Groups take turns staying in on designated days and learn self-help skills including laundry, cooking and taking public transportation.
Participants are also encouraged to explore their creativity with the Art & Soul program. Using supplies provided by the program, artists create work onsite and earn one-third of the proceeds from the sale of their work. The balance goes back into the program.
The artwork is displayed throughout the facility and is offered for sale.
“They have a great stock of talent,” said Chris Antonneau, president of David Insurance Agency, Inc. “The color schemes exude the joy that people are putting into these pieces of art as they work on them.”
For this program, participants are paid for the work they perform with staff supervision on the premises of Careers Industries. Twelve staff members manage participants on a 1:14 ratio.
Local companies contract with Careers Industries for:
- Assembly including light and kit assembly both by machine and hand
- Packaging by hand and machine, including thermal seal, blister pack and shrink wrap
- Collating from brochures to washers
- Quality services including parts inspection, deburring and sorting
Richard, 52, who has worked for Careers Industries for 33 years was applying sensors to power cord kit packaging for InSinkerator. When asked what he liked best about working, he quickly replied, “the money.”
Greene said that the participants are paid by the piece, so that they are rewarded for their efforts and customers are fairly charged for the work performed.
But that doesn’t mean all the participants are slowed down by their disabilities. Greene humbly shared that he recently lost a competition with 29-year veteran Warren, 69.
“It wasn’t even close,” Greene said.
Partners in Integrated
Under the premise, “everyone deserves a chance to work,” this program helps participants find jobs and internships in the community by providing free on-site coaching and support.
The staff works closely with the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) to help start the process, as well as developing partnerships with area businesses and organizations to find out what type of experience, skills and talent they need.
Since 2012, Careers Industries has partnered with Malicki’s Piggly Wiggly to provide 40-hour paid internships funded by the DVR. The program is called S.H.a.R.E. (Service, Handling and Retail Experience). Nearly 40 interns have participated since the program’s inception to learn skills such as greeting customers, telephone etiquette, stocking shelves and using the cash register.
“We’re a small business with limited resources and Careers Industries has helped us find associates that are ready to go,” store owner Ralph Malicki said. “They provide a seamless startup for the people they bring through our doors, as well as ongoing support, which is proven by the fact that we’ve hired many of the interns as permanent team members.”
Some participants utilize more than one program or progress from one program to another.
Greene attributed the long-term success of Careers Industries to its ability to offer a variety of programs and the great support the agency receives from the community.
“One size fits all just doesn’t work,” Greene said. “Yet there continues to be mounting regulatory uncertainty that’s having a drastic effect on the services traditionally offered by agencies like Careers Industries.”
He continued: “There is increasing pressure to eliminate the onsite, facilities-based work option that many of our people choose and need. We are keenly aware of the potential of the changing regulatory and funding landscape to limit service offerings and eliminate participant choice.”
When asked for tips to share about how to deal with people with disabilities, Green replied: “Think about what you want in life – to be part of something, to feel loved, to be productive, to feel safe – it’s the same for all the people we serve.”
For more information, call Careers Industries at (262)752-4100 or visit careersindustries.com.