FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Anthony Wayne Services, or AWS, started in 1960 to help people with disabilities find jobs. The organization has grown extensively since that time. It provides services to nearly 8500 people across the country. AWS does work in eleven states spanning from California to New Jersey.
There are several workshops in Fort Wayne. The workshops got their start when the non-profit found itself in an interesting situation.
“The AWS non for profit, serving the same clients and customers that we do to this day, found itself becoming profitable. There’s a lot of non for profits that make money, but the thought was, well, what do you do with that money? We’re already out there serving clients. We’re continuing to serve clients, but what do you do with the money that’s building up?” CEO of the AWS Foundation, Mike Cahill, said.
The AWS board formed a foundation back in the summer of 2007 with the idea being they’d have these operational businesses.
“Any money made from the operations goes to the foundation who gives it to organizations across the city and country. It’s become very big. Right now, the foundation has roughly $70M in investments, and we’re really trying to push ourselves into the community even more. We’re looking at service providers that are similar to the work we do here at the workshop, but also others like Turnstone, Easter Seals ARC, Passages, Pathfinders, etc, that come to us for grants, and we’re able to give it to them to help serve other clients. It kind of takes any money that comes into the non for profit and puts it back in to the same community. The key reason for the foundation being formed is to help folks who want to help our population. We’re in the phone book, on the internet, on the web- just contact us. We’re going to be very interactive. It’s not send us a white paper and we’ll get back to you. Call us, let’s work through it. Let’s take those ideas. We’re all about expanding those ideas that work in our area.” Cahill said.
If your organization is interested in applying for a grant with Anthony Wayne Services Foundation, click here for a link to grant applications.
The director of communications for AWS, Courtney Hartman, said the work AWS is doing represents a growing trend in society.
“What’s really kind of fascinating about this field is that if you think about the history of serving people with disabilities even 20-30 years ago, when somebody would have a child with a disability, people would say, put them in an institution. You can’t care for them in your own home, or they can’t be living in a community setting. So, over the last 15-20 years, there’s been a big movement to shut down institutions in states across the country. Integrating those individuals back into day to day society and making sure that they are successful in the community setting is really important and it’s really an area of expertise of AWS. We really believe that with the proper care and with the proper encouragement, anybody is capable of living in a community setting- of working, of going to basketball games, of living a normal life just like you or I would. When you think about your social life, and you’re out with friends, or you go home to your spouse or significant other at night, you talk about this is what I did today, this is how my job went today, and I think it’s really important to realize that everybody kind of wants that. It gives you something to talk about with your peers, your friends, your significant other, it’s an important part of our daily lives. We think that the dignity of work, of feeling productive, is really critical in anybody’s life and we want everybody to have that opportunity,” Hartman said.
NewsChannel 15 got the chance to spend the day at the workshop on the city’s north side. The AWS Workshop off Progress Road may look like a standard building, but it doesn’t take long to see the shop is anything but ordinary.
For 200 employees, the workshop is more than just a place to clock in and clock out. It’s more than just a paycheck.
“It’s about helping those with enduring intellectual and physical disabilities perform and be a part of the community at the highest level possible. We all want to be part of the community. We all want to be needed, wanted, and be productive, and have a purpose in life. That’s what we all want, and that’s really what’s going on at the workshop. It just happens to be with a certain segment of the population. Period,” Cahill said.
Some of the projects at the workshop may just look like busy work, but it’s anything but. The employees have contracts with big names like NASA and Toyota.
“We have varying levels of skills that they have the capability of doing. Our work involves everything from the packaging, sub assembly, working for the automotive industry, and all sorts of miscellaneous work that would involve any type of manual labor. They’re real jobs that the companies really need, and they hire us because we can do the work. We have to provide quality. It’s got to be done on time, and we have to provide great customer service. We got those jobs because we’re really good at what we do. We’ve got to compete on that side of the house all your major Fortune 500 companies and we do,” VP of Operations for AWS/AWRC, Gary Johnloz, said.
Their work can be seen all over, from the cones scattered across every major Indiana highway to the cars driving on them.
“When they see a vehicle going down the road that we’ve done some assembly on, they do understand that they’ve been part of that. So, that’s that self-assurance that they’re really making a difference and that’s one of our goals.” Johnloz said.
Johnloz said the jobs AWS provides helps the employees increase their professional and personal skills.
“We really cover the whole spectrum from individuals that are severely disabled, that have limited skills, to individuals that are service-disabled veterans, that might have PTSD or other mental illness issues that we employ. There’s not one mold that we have that everyone’s got to fit into. We have different scales that the individuals, depending on their capabilities, are able to work into. The whole theory that we want to present to our consumers is that we want to offer great employment, a chance to excel, and be thought of as somebody that’s contributing to this total effort. Individuals might be working in the morning on a individual project, but in the afternoon, they might work on a different project. So, that also gives them the opportunity to be a little more diversified rather than doing one thing, all day, all year-long. I think they really enjoy coming to work. They don’t have to be here, that’s their choice. They see their friends, but they also know they’re making a difference. They’re working on contracts that do make a difference in the community, and they understand that. We create good quality products for our customers. We do it by changing people’s lives and giving people the opportunity that might not otherwise have such in the outside world,” Johnloz said.
NewsChannel 15 got the chance to interview several of the employees at the workshop.
Harold supervises a project that puts together parts for Toyota vehicles.
“Harold was working in the community, was not being challenged enough. So, he came back to the workshop and he manages that entire project. He checks everything in every day. He does 100% QC inspection. All 30 people actually work for Harold now, and he runs that entire project now. He’s now a mentor. We call him a mentor because he actually trains those individuals. So, it’s a good case where outside community employment is good, but it may not fit for everyone. That’s what we want to do. We want to be able to offer those really good jobs for those people that have the capability in house,” Johnloz said.
“When my outside job didn’t do so well, I decided to come back and work for Anthony Wayne Services. They were looking for a mentor’s job, and I applied for it. I got to interview will all these senior team leads, they were looking for a mentor, and I said I can be your best mentor there can be. I mentor so they can become mentors someday. I check on these winterlocks and I make sure they’re done right. If they’re not, give them back to the consumer to do it right. You’ve got to make sure that you say the right things that you’re supposed to say to a client, not overstep your boundaries. Make sure you say something right, not something wrong. There might be pros and cons about being a boss, but it comes with the territory of ups and downs and all that stuff,” Harold said.
Harold also met his wife, Maria, at the workshop. She is a cafeteria assistant. He shared the story of how the two met.
“In small groups on Friday nights, and I asked her for a relationship, and she told me yes. First, I had to meet my in-laws before we can commit. So, she sent me a nice home-made Valentine’s Day card and told me we’re going to date slowly. So, I said okay, I waited for about four years and we decided we wanted to get married. I popped the question to her- will you marry me and she said yes, so we got married in her Catholic church a year ago on August 17, 2013 about a year ago, and so we’ve been happily ever married since then,” Harold said.
Harold said working at the AWS workshop is very rewarding.
“I enjoy working in this company. I told my supervisor I’m happy working here. I like to work with the clients, to see their happy face and see how they look when they get their paycheck. It made me feel good, and they earn what they earn and they do a good job for this company here. That’s what I’m here for. I’m here for the clients. They’re happy to see me, I’m happy to see them no matter if it’s good or bad, I’m happy being here. Every day, I’m just so happy being here. I got one happy family here at Anthony Wayne Services because I don’t know where I would be without Anthony Wayne Services. I’ve worked many jobs before in my life, but I’m happy being here. They’re just my family,” Harold said.
Charlie cuts the packaging straps for the eggs and milk you’ll pick up from the store. He’s also retired from the workshop five times.
“Well, I appreciate it. I always have something to do. Before that, I had different jobs. Why I stayed here long, because I’m going to make something to the people here,” Charlie said.
Janice could help save your life one day. She cleans spools. Those spools hold wire that’s used in medical procedures like putting in a heart catheter.
“Well the spools are very special. Those spools are for hospitals. First thing you have to do is clean them with the special cleaner. Let’s pretend that this is a spool. You use the cleaner. First, before you do the spools, you’ve got to put on your apron. Then you wear your glasses so you don’t get the cleaner in your eyes and then you put your gloves on so you won’t get chemical in your hands or on your clothes when you wear the apron- you dig? I like the work when I’m working with my hands, and whenever I listen to my tapes, or my radios, or anything. Oh you know me, I’m the clean queen,” Janice said.