For adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the biggest obstacle to reaching one’s potential often is the lack of a chance.
For nearly 50 years, Lakewood-based Centerforce has been the bridge for those individuals in search of a chance at gainful employment. For various reasons – the stigma of hiring a developmentally disabled individual, the lack of a “connection” who could get them a first job, parents who are hesitant to allow their child into the workforce, etc. - it’s especially hard for individuals with disabilities to get that first job.
That’s one of the reasons the services performed by Centerforce – a nonprofit organization located in the Springbrook neighborhood – is so important, according to Executive Director Debby Graham. She has worked with Centerforce for nearly 20 years.
Centerforce has connected countless individuals with disabilities – all of whom are referred by the State of Washington – with opportunities in food, janitorial, grounds-keeping, technology and other services in Pierce and South King County.
As for the businesses who partner with Centerforce and ultimately benefit from contracting or flat-out hiring its clients and earn a tax break– whether it’s Burger King, Burlington Coat Factory or Old Country Buffet, even Joint Base Lewis-McChord - the rewards can be even greater.
“That's one of our unique characteristics - we develop longtime relationships with businesses and support them,” Graham says. “Some employers just aren't sure, and we can provide that link.”
By The Numbers
Centerforce’s roots stretch to 1968, when a group of concerned parents started what-was-then called the Pacific Care Center to emphasize teaching daily living skills to intellectually and developmentally disabled individuals.
In 1981, Centerforce evolved to focus on vocational rehabilitation by providing employment education, training and skill building. Its prior location was a warehouse near the I-5/SR 512 intersection before it moved to its current location at 5204 Solberg Drive Southwest nearly two decades ago.
One look at the nonprofit’s numbers today illustrates how much it has grown since its humble roots, as well as the reach it now enjoys in the community. In the 2015-16 fiscal year, the organization:
Served 821 individuals. That consisted of 262 individuals with disabilities and 616 Springbrook community residents
Received almost all of its revenue from government funding, grants, contributions and commercial services such as janitorial, grounds-keeping and Hometown Dogs, its mobile hot dog truck
Was able to provide nearly $83,000 worth of uncompensated services to clients thanks to community contributions.
In September 2016, its clients received nearly $25,000 worth of wages – wages that most likely wouldn’t have been made without their work.
What the numbers might not necessarily illustrate is how maintaining gainful employment can change clients for the better, whether they live with cerebral palsy, a brain injury or any other obstacle.
Development Director Rick Guild says there are countless stories of how clients’ lives have changed thanks to Centerforce. There’s Jason, who before his job was scared to ride the bus for fear of being bullied and wouldn’t talk to anyone. Today, Jason is an “All-Star” at his technology job and is a regular transit rider.
“Being around folks with limitations really opens people's eyes to their abilities,” Guild says. “They are capable of so much and they care. They have a deep emotional connection to others.”
The need to connect adults with disabilities with gainful employment doesn’t look like it will fade anytime soon.
Currently, there is a waiting list for adults with disabilities to work with Centerforce.
The truth is that, according to Graham, when people are deciding which organization they should contribute money to, those that assist adults with disabilities don’t jump to the top of the priority list.
“That’s what keeps me going,” she says. “Our population is often the quiet population. We work on their behalf.”
In terms of its future, Centerforce is planning how it can better serve its clients and the community.
The organization says the City of Lakewood has been a tremendous partner and supporter of Centerforce. It loves the improvements the City has made to sidewalks, roads and infrastructure in Springbrook – a neighborhood to which it is intrinsically connected.
For its success, service and contributions to the community, the City of Lakewood recognizes Centerforce as its October 2016 Business Showcase.