ALTON - Challenge Unlimited believes in meaningful employment for everybody, and they’re doing what they can to make it a reality.

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The Alton-based organization helps disabled job-seekers connect with employers through programs that offer job coaching, interview skills and “job carving” services. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, but Challenge Unlimited works year-round to advocate for disabled individuals in the workplace.

“The way I look at things, everybody has some kind of limitation, disability, some kind of issue. We all carry our own challenge,” said John Becker, who works with the employment programs at Challenge Unlimited. “[Disabled people] have the same desires as everybody else. They want a job, they want to be successful, they want to, like everybody, own their own home, chase the American dream. And when people are unfortunately stereotyped or categorized because of a disability, they’re being held back.”

In Illinois, 675,000 people identify as having a disability, and 54% of this population is unemployed. Becker noted that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is “always three to four times higher than everybody else’s,” which demonstrates the need for services like what Challenge Unlimited offers.

The organization currently has two employment programs, and they will work with you to determine your needs and which program would be the best fit. The “Community Placement” program supports people as they identify jobs, write resumes and build interview skills. Becker pointed out that most colleges or employment training programs also have resources like this.

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The “Supportive Employment” program provides on-the-job coaching for 18 months. Coaches will stick with you during your shifts to determine what tasks need to be done and how to do them, or they might offer guidance on customer interactions and workplace etiquette.

Becker emphasized that Challenge Unlimited’s services depend on one’s level of need. He also clarified that Challenge Unlimited doesn’t just connect people with jobs; the nonprofit also works with employers to create jobs through their AbilityOne program.

“Job carving” is a big part of the program. This method helps employers identify tasks that must be done but slow down the business’s workflow. By compiling all of these tasks into one job, they create an employment opportunity and the business becomes more efficient.

“We love to talk to employers about how we can help you,” Becker said. “This is a way for somebody to be connected to a situation where they really want to succeed.”

Through sharing Challenge Unlimited’s mission, Becker also hopes to clear up some of the misconceptions about nonprofits and federal assistance programs. He explained that Challenge Unlimited only receives funding if their programs are successful, so they are doubly devoted to their mission. The Challenge Unlimited staff works hard to keep them going and connect people with job opportunities.

And if you need proof, Becker says to simply look at their record. The nonprofit itself employs over 900 people, including 600 people with disabilities. Since its beginning in 1978, Challenge Unlimited has been focused on supporting people through every stage of employment.

“Our company was started to find meaningful employment for people with disabilities to fully participate in the community,” Becker added. “We are very much tied to somebody’s success and working with employers and making sure the individual is going to be successful long term, and we’ve had great success with many employers for years. We’ve been operating employment services for over 50 years.”

To learn more about Challenge Unlimited, including how to support them or utilize their services, visit their official website at cuinc.org.

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