AbilityFirst creates targeted programming to help individuals with physical and developmental disabilities including autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome successfully transition from childhood to adult life.
Established in 1926 in Los Angeles, AbilityFirst offers after-school enrichment, post-secondary education and career planning support, employment preparation and work experience, community integration, camping and group housing programs. AbilityFirst looks beyond disabilities, focuses on the capabilities of each individual and breaks through any preconceived limitations, opening up a world of possibilities.
Despite progress in the efforts to make communities more inclusive for individuals with disabilities, many challenges still remain. AbilityFirst continually moves forward to focus their efforts on programs that are proven to have the greatest impact on a person’s success. Individuals with disabilities struggle to find employment: only about 25% participate in the workforce. Employment and the ability to earn a paycheck is important to everyone, including individuals with disabilities. The need for competitive community employment will continue to increase dramatically in the future, as about 50,000 individuals with autism exit high school each year.
AbilityFirst has provided site-based employment and skills training in their Work Centers for many years, and has successfully transitioned hundreds of individuals into employment. Despite its efforts, finding satisfactory placements is extremely challenging, especially with tight job markets and rising minimum wages. For this reason, in 2003, AbilityFirst decided to start a shredding business, looking for ways to expand opportunities for more individuals with disabilities to work in the community. Today, AbilityFirst Shredding Services employs individuals with disabilities around Los Angeles, giving them valuable work experience while offering secure disposal of sensitive documents. In the past seven years, AbilityFirst has shredded over 3,500,000 pounds of paper.
With the support of staff, individuals with disabilities learn a new trade, including visiting businesses and picking up document bins, loading and unloading, operating the shredding machines, palletizing and recycling the shredded materials. Meanwhile, corporate partners receive cost efficient and time effective service. Finally, revenue from the shredding business contributes to the quality programs and services that AbilityFirst is known for, and that the families and participants deserve.
Alberto Suazo, an adult with autism, began at the AbilityFirst Work Center in Pasadena in 2003 doing assembly and other production. In 2008, he began working with the drivers to pick up bins of shredding. Since that time, Alberto has become a real expert, performing all aspects of the job. When there is a substitute driver, Alberto is the one to direct him to the bins and point out what needs to be processed. Although Alberto has been offered other employment options, he loves his job and wants to keep it. It is difficult to put a number on the sheets of paper that he shreds each day. His answer, “A lot, all over the city.”
The shredding enterprise has not only given individuals with disabilities like Alberto the opportunity to have a job, earn a paycheck, learn new skills and be out in the community. It has also changed the perceptions of many employers, who are impressed with the work and service they receive. Since the quality of AbilityFirst Shredding Services is equal to – if not better than – the work they have received from other commercial companies, they recognize that it is not the disability, but the capability and ability of each individual that counts.
On April 2, 2017, AbilityFirst will be hosting the annual Stroll & Roll, an agency-wide fundraiser sponsored by Comerica Bank. Participants stroll, roll, walk or run through the Universal Studios Backlot. To register or for more information, visit www.abilityfirst.org.