Nonprofit links businesses with disabled employees

Nonprofit links businesses with disabled employees
After spending 24 years in the offices at 24 Hour Fitness, Perry Carr retired two weeks ago. Staff at Partnerships With Industry worked alongside Carr throughout his career to ensure his success. Courtesy photo

CARLSBAD — At 9:30 a.m. every morning for nearly a decade, Perry Carr led stretches in his office at the 24 Hour Fitness on Palomar Airport Road.

He also made sure to greet each one of the 30 employees every morning.

After 24 years at 24 Hour Fitness, Carr has retired.

His tenure there represents a successful pairing for Partnerships With Industry (PWI), a nonprofit that teams with local businesses to offer employment to people with developmental and other disabilities.

Since 1985, PWI has matched more than 12,000 people with intellectual or developmental disabilities with jobs throughout San Diego.

They partner with businesses like Home Depot, the Omni Hotel, Legoland and the San Diego Zoo, as well as cities like Vista and Solana Beach.

PWI President and CEO Mark Berger said since many of the jobs are entry level they usually have a high turnover rate.

Clients of PWI tend to stick with jobs for an average of four-and-a-half years, which helps businesses.

“They want reliable people that will be there and that they can count on,” Berger said. “We’ve met that need.”

He said they often partner with the hospitality sector and some of the jobs include, hotel porters, cleaning jobs, food service and administrative work.

Nora Conner, supervisor at 24 Hour Fitness, said that while Carr did administrative work for the company, he meant a lot more.

When the company first introduced the stretching program, Conner said people weren’t extremely enthusiastic.

“The problem was, people didn’t get up and do it but because he was asking everybody to come up and stretch, everybody was more willing to get up and stretch because he was the one leading it,” Conner said.

He was so successful with leading the stretches the company eventually asked him to go to different departments to lead the stretches.

Conner said it became an important community builder.

“At 9:30 a.m., he brought everybody together. There’s people in other cubicles that we may not talk to all day but we were able to socialize with each other for 10 minutes everyday so it helped us (get to) know each other better,” Conner said.

Since Carr retired two weeks ago, his co-worker Jeff Lee took over the stretches. Lee is also a PWI client.

Berger said part of the reason the non-profit has such longevity in the community is because they listen to their clients.

“We try to understand the needs of the people we serve,” Berger said.

“Everything we do is about the client’s choice.”

PWI just opened a document destruction service in San Diego and he said workers who don’t want to leave PWI can choose to work there or continue in one of their training facilities.

They also offer job coaches who work with clients like Carr, at no cost to the hiring business. In the beginning, coaches work with the client full-time or nearly full-time.

Then as the new employee becomes more comfortable, the coaching tapers off.

While PWI has been successfully operating for 30 years, Berger said state funding cuts are proving difficult for the organization.

“We’ve been sustaining 10 percent cuts since 2008. Each year our rent and insurance go up,” Berger said.

To make up the difference they fundraise.

PWI is also spurring new business activity for additional revenue streams. The document destruction facility is in its second year.

“It’s now profitable and we hope to be employing new workers as that program grows,” Berger said.

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