By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
St. Mary-Pella Knights of Columbus set a council record this year for their Campaign for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities. They collected more than $27,000 through fundraising efforts at the Iowa State Fair, online, via a business telethon and by engaging teams and athletes from the two local school systems in a team challenge.
Beyond fundraising, the Pella KCs also help to make a difference by encouraging local businesses to hire individuals with special needs.
Each year, the KCs give a portion of the campaign donations to the Christian Opportunity Center in Pella, a public benefit corporation that supports more than 260 people with disabilities. For 44 years, the center operated a sheltered employment program in Pella, Oskaloosa and Indianola. This program contracted small jobs from local businesses and corporations and completed these small jobs at the center with staff support. “Many people with disabilities earned a regular paycheck working on these jobs,” said Amy Zuck, Christian Opportunity Center’s public information director.
In 2018, as a result of state funding cuts, 100 people lost their jobs, said Joe Lickteig, a coordinator for the Pella KCs’ Campaign for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities (CPID). When the program ended, many individuals wanted to find jobs in the community through Christian Opportunity Center’s Community-Based Employment (CBE) program, Zuck said.
The KCs’ efforts “to raise awareness became so significant to the people we support,” she said. “CBE staff work hard each day, speaking to employers about hiring individuals with disabilities. Still, some of our most successful business partnerships have come from people outside of our agency, making connections between (the agency) and local employers.”
Those efforts began last year when KCs initiated conversations with their business connections on behalf of Christian Opportunity Center in the Pella area. One contact was Vermeer Manufacturing. Now, two people supported by the center work in the office’s coffee shop. Those adults “have made a great contribution to the culture of the corporate office of Vermeer,” Lickteig said. Zuck said the employees with special needs “are very much part of the Vermeer work culture.”
This success story gave the KCs a talking point during the 2019 Campaign for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities. When contacting businesses for donations, the KCs brought up the idea of meeting with the Community-Based Employment staff. “We knew that if Vermeer could hire, then others would, too. It really set us up to hit the phones,” Lickteig said.
The council set a goal of connecting 10 local businesses with Christian Opportunity Center, and achieved it. Those efforts have opened many doors to set up meetings with local employers,” Zuck said. While the meetings may not lead to immediate employment, “being able to share what we do may lead to future work opportunities for people with disabilities.”
Cathy Wilson, a Christian Opportunity Center program manager, said the KCs have been a great resource. “It’s a process of gaining confidence and opportunity and it does take time.”
The center’s executive director, John Eilers, lauded the Pella KCs for their multifaceted support. “Their advocacy for people with disabilities with potential employers in the community has been invaluable.”
“Employers just need to be open-minded and creative,” Lickteig said.