Testing the waters for people with disabilities
Gulfport, Mississippi is home to SourceAmerica® nonprofit agency AbilityWorks of Harrison County, which is responsible for supporting the six southernmost counties in the state that provide job opportunities for people with disabilities. One of the most notable contracts they hold allows them to provide housekeeping services at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport. This work is done through the AbilityOne® Program - one of the largest sources of employment in the United States for people who are blind or have significant disabilities.
The Armed Forces Retirement Home is one of the nation’s premier communities for retired and former members of America’s armed forces and their spouses. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated just how important it is to have a highly trained custodial team working hard to keep critical federal facilities open, and this one is no exception. AbilityWorks is dedicated to keeping this important location as safe as possible for both its occupants and staff. The essential workforce carrying out this mission includes professionals with disabilities.
AbilityWorks is one of the more than 700 nonprofit agencies in the SourceAmerica network dedicated to providing employment opportunities to people with disabilities. Nestled into the northern Gulf Coast, AbilityWorks is a network of community rehabilitation programs housed within the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services (MDRS) Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. MDRS is the state agency dedicated to helping individuals with disabilities live and work independently and provides vocational assessment, job training, and actual work experience for these talented professionals.
In addition to the AbilityOne work that they perform, AbilityWorks also has a unique in-house workshop and assessment program. One of these assessment programs provides potential clients with instructions, tools, and pre-cut vinyl coated wire. Their task is to transform the materials they are given into crab traps. If the clients are able to successfully complete the assessment, they are able to be placed on the actual contract to make the traps commercially. They are then also approved to work on other programs that require similar problem solving and manufacturing skills.
AbilityWorks Facility Manager Troy Wicktom is proud of the work being performed by people with disabilities in his community, “Our mission is to help professionals who have disabilities find meaningful work here in Mississippi. We are proud that we help do this through our AbilityOne work and successful vocational programs.”
The Gulfport region, including AbilityWorks, was significantly impacted by Hurricane Zeta, which passed directly over the city in early November. Operations slowed in the aftermath of the storm, causing more than 2 million people across the southeast to lose power. Many homes and businesses were damaged. “Being in Mississippi, we are always ready and prepared for a big storm like this. Our services were only interrupted for a few days. Importantly, we were able to keep providing service to the community and jobs for our clients.”
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