A non-profit corporation that serves clients with disabilities in 15 cities across the state got its start in Brookhaven 60 years ago.
Formerly known as Allied Enterprises, AbilityWorks began in 1959 in Brookhaven. It is a part of the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services. In May 2004, the company changed its name to AbilityWorks to better reflect the mission and purpose of the program.
At each of the 15 locations, counselors provide vocational assessment, job training and actual work experience for individuals with disabilities.
In order to participate in the AbilityWorks program disabled individuals must be at least 16 years old, be a client already served by vocation rehabilitation, be medically stable and be able to care for themselves.
The Vocational Rehabilitation counselor gathers information on the applicant themselves, such as school records, medical and psychological reports. If the counselor believes the client is a candidate for AbilityWorks then the counselor will refer the client to the program.
If accepted, clients perform job activities that are contracted to the facility by local industries such as Delphi, a fabrication company in Brookhaven.
Donna Foster has been with the company for over 20 years and has served as facility manager in Brookhaven for four years.
“I’ve been in this business a long time. I always had the compassion of helping people,” Foster said.
Workers at AbilityWorks start at $4.25 an hour. After 90 days, they move up to $7.25 an hour.
“Our kids will do some assembling, packaging and sorting. We do various production work, such as sorting plastic cutlery, washing and stacking plastic totes, cutting and banding survey stakes and building casket boxes for local funeral homes.”
Canopy Breezes, a company in Brookhaven that specializes in creating outdoor products, uses AbilityWorks clients to help manufacture its merchandise. They’ve found that not only are they helping provide work for the clients there, they’re also saving labor costs related to hiring additional employees for their company.
“These are capable individuals that can do things and if you give them a chance to work for you, they can do it and save you money. It was a win-win situation for us,” said Jeff Snuggs, a business partner with Canopy Breezes.
Burt Wilson, supervisor for the Brookhaven Street Department, has found the workers of AbilityWorks very useful as well. AbilityWorks clients have worked for the city in the past.
“They are some hard workers,” Wilson said. “They would do whatever we asked of them. We had no problems with them, they came in and did their work.”
Foster said the non-profit’s ultimate goal is for their clients to get jobs outside of the program.
That experience can eventually lead to full-time employment with a company when the client’s time at AbilityWorks is completed.
“If you see an employee in Wal-Mart and they have a trainer with them, that’s probably one of our clients,” Foster said. “We help them work on resumes, interview skills and applications.”
A business development specialists makes contact with businesses in Lincoln County to match companies with clients who need jobs.
Matching clients to the right jobs can be a challenge, Foster said.
“We look at some of the things they can do and some of the things they cannot do,” she said. Counselors administer tests to get an idea of what an individual’s work potential or interests may be.
“Some of the kids have never worked before, so we assign each person an instructor and see what type of work potential they have or if they need support systems,” she said.
All of this happens while the clock is ticking.
“We’re a training program. They can’t stay here forever,” Foster said. “Our ultimate goal is to get them a job. We train them and we’re trying to help them achieve their goals of being out in the workforce.”
Once a client is employed with a business, a counselor checks in every 30, 60 and 90 days to make sure they are adjusting to their new job.
For more information, contact AbilityWorks at 601-833-3201.