A good fit

A local cabinet-making facility needs workers and a local agency that finds employment for adults with disabilities needs placement opportunities — the match-up has proven successful for both sides

Advance Opportunities client Curtis Stene breaks down a cardboard box for recycling, part of his duties at Mid Continent Cabinetry.

Editor’s note: This is the third in a four-part series on the challenges and successes that people with disabilities and the people who work with them experience.

MARSHALL

They go together like a tongue and groove cabinet door. A local cabinet making company and employment agency for people with special needs have joined forces to provide jobs.

Two years ago, Mid Continent Cabinetry began a relationship with Advance Opportunities in Marshall that has proven advantageous to both.

There are a variety of jobs at Mid Continent, which is part of MasterBrand cabinets, the world’s largest cabinet manufacturer.

One of Curtis Stene’s tasks is to break down cardboard boxes and prepare them for recycling.

“It keeps me busy,” he said. “I like it here.”

“We have over 25 people working,” said Dawn Wambeke, the executive director at Advance Opportunities. “Everyone was hired at Mid Continent’s prevailing wage.”

Most Advance clients work part time.

“The shifts are 10-hour shifts four days a week and we split them into two five-hour shifts,” said Wambeke. “So we fill one position with two people. But we do have a part-time person who went to full time. That’s really exciting for her.”

They started with scanning barcodes, clipping labels, hole-punching doors and have expanded to include baling cardboard and cleaning bathrooms and breakrooms.

“We started out with the manufacturing and it keeps growing,” said Jamie Struck, Advance employment coordinator. “It’s called a community integrated program — working side by side with other employees. It’s been a beautiful partnership.”

It’s a human resources director’s dream.

“We operate kind of like a temporary office service,” said Struck. “If someone is sick, we fill the position.”

Racquel Rolla, the Mid Continent human resources manager, said the unanticipated consequence of having people with disabilities there is that it has actually changed their work culture for the positive in a significant way because the workers have developed great relationships with the Mid Continent employees, and it has brought up the morale for the whole plant.

“They are excited to be at work and want to do a good job. Everyone loves the Advance employees,” Rolla said.

Wambeke said she appreciated hearing that because it is something they knew already and is glad other people are experiencing it.

The partnership started with a personal relationship. In March of 2015, Benny Brennecke, Mid Continent founder, called acquaintance Pat Driessen, a long-time employee of Advance Opportunities to see if the agency, which provides employment and training for adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities, had any workers to help fill open positions. Excited for the employment opportunity, Advance staffers sprung into action, creating staffing, transportation and scheduling.

Danica Caldwell is the Advance client who recently changed from part time to full time at Mid Continent. She has found her niche in precisely matching drawer and door fronts to numbered carts.

“I scan the barcode and read it to know which cart to put it in,” she said.

Caldwell works alongside Chenoa Masters who also removes cabinet doors from a moving overhead line and places them into an appropriate bin for further processing according to its label. She said sometimes “nothing is coming” on the assembly line, so “they get to joke around a little bit” and “sometimes it’s so busy, you don’t get a breath.”

Masters has worked at Mid Continent for almost a year.

“I love it,” she said. “The people are nice and supportive.”

Masters said she and Caldwell “work well together — we’re partners.”

They both have “bling” attached to their safety goggles — sparkly gems stuck on the bows, given to them by job coach Deb Breyfogle, who decorated her own goggles as well.

Some Advance workers work with job coaches and some work independently.

Word of the successful pairing is spreading around the business community.

“People see the success at Mid Continent,” Wambeke said, “and now other businesses see the possibilities.”

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