Illinois-based Challenge Unlimited Inc. has literally “been up to the challenge” since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Jason Golden

The year 2020 has proven to be a challenging one for all of us – a "competition" between life the way we knew it and what's now considered the new normal. Right now, we are all being challenged to do whatever we can to help "flatten the curve" of COVID-19 cases with social distancing, while keeping essential businesses operating.

Working both sides of this unique challenge has become a necessity for not only the front-line workers, but those who support them and community leaders as well. Illinois-based Challenge Unlimited Inc. has literally “been up to the challenge” since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a SourceAmerica member nonprofit agency, Challenge Unlimited employs professionals with disabilities through three main conduits – the U.S. AbilityOne® Program via General Services Administration (GSA) and U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) contracts, state use contracts and the commercial sector. Their customers span a wide range that includes the military, federal and state governments, and the judicial circuit court system. Challenge Unlimited provides janitorial, grounds maintenance, food service, commissary, and total facility management services. Since the organization has multiple lines of business that are considered essential, Challenge Unlimited employees have continued to deliver for their customers daily and have performed their duties while providing a reassuring face to building tenants during these trying times.

Through the AbilityOne Program – one of the nation's largest sources of employment for people with significant disabilities – Challenge Unlimited manages service contracts that employ approximately 340 individuals performing custodial services at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. They also provide grounds maintenance services at Great Lakes Naval Base and Scott Air Force Base, both in Illinois. Each of these contracts are still running during the pandemic.

Brian Roarke and Lori Davey provide custodial service at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. Wearing proper personal protective equipment and practicing social distancing remain an important part of the new “normal” for janitorial services.Brian Roarke is a custodian at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. He understands that the importance of his work has taken on a greater meaning. "Working right now is not much different other than wiping down doorknobs and common touch points," he said. Roarke is taking extra precautions at his work site via the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and maintaining of social distancing. "The work is important to stop the spread of the virus and keep other people safe."

Challenge Unlimited Executive Vice President of Operations Tony Crawley knows that his talented workforce is part of the solution to keeping essential operations running. "I'm grateful to our front-line workers for addressing multiple customer COVID-19 cleanups during this time and continuing to provide essential services daily to our customers."

Challenge Unlimited employs more than 60 people with disabilities for AbilityOne GSA contracts throughout Illinois, Missouri, and Ohio. During the pandemic, the organization has been working with many of their customers to increase the frequencies of "touch-point cleaning" to improve safety at these locations. In order to meet increasing demands related to COVID-19, they have taken enhanced actions including increased training for staff and procuring electrostatic sprayers to address the current and anticipated pandemic needs of the future. According to Crawley, the electrostatic sprayers can sanitize and kill 99.9% of bacteria on hard, nonporous surfaces and hard-to-reach places, and has the ability to cover up to 18,000 square feet per hour.

Challenge Unlimited's largest commercial contract provides cleaning and disinfection services in downtown St. Louis to the Missouri 22nd Judicial Circuit. Vernon Betts is the city's Deputy Sheriff. He acknowledged the professional response and essential cleaning and disinfection services that Challenge Unlimited provided in response to a positive COVID-19 test in his department. "I want to thank the cleaning staff for their professional response and acknowledge how essential our custodial workers are during this crisis," said Betts.

The professionals at Challenge Unlimited take their role – and name – seriously. They understand that the COVID-19 response is the ultimate challenge in need of a special response. Keeping multiple sectors of the nation’s essential services open for business is a challenge that they readily accept.

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