The Community Based Contract Services program of JVS Chicago is a $5 million business serving federal and state agencies throughout the Chicagoland area. Employees with disabilities run a warehouse for the Veterans Administration; maintain office buildings for the US Army Reserve, Illinois State Police and the IRS; help keep local FAA air traffic control centers clean and operating; and run mailrooms for Argonne Laboratory, the IRS and the EPA. The program operates at more than a dozen sites in the Chicago area.
Art Adelberg, Director of Community Based Contract Services (CBS), has been with JVS Chicago since 1985, when the program was servicing its first contract with the US Environmental Protection Agency. This year CBS earned the highest Gold Award designation from the US AbilityOne Commission, which enables all people who are blind or have other significant disabilities to achieve their maximum employment potential. This effort involved Adelberg, Assistant Director Eric Kramp and the entire CBS staff.
“Art has been the heart and soul of Community Based Services, which provides employment and support to those with disabilities,” said Constantine Bitsas, Vice President of Career and Employment Services. “Art’s passion to help improve our clients’ quality of life built this program, and 120 of these clients now have permanent, stable employment. He is dedicated to making CBS the best it can be through serving both the clients and customers, which he does incredibly well.”
The AbilityOne commission, which administers employment programs through the National Industries for the Blind and SourceAmerica (formerly NISH), is designed to provide “a framework to develop and showcase best, promising and emerging employment practices” and has a goal of “dismantling others’ outdated labels and perceptions (of employees with disabilities),” according to a prepared written statement.
Evolution Solution Emphasizes Inclusion
Adelberg, Kramp and CBS staff has evolved their program as the role of employees with disabilities evolved.
“The original method of promoting the employment of people with disabilities was the work center concept,” said Adelberg. “Groups of people with disabilities were given bench work assembling or packing items. Over the years, however, the focus has expanded from the work center concept towards a goal of more inclusion and integration of employees with disabilities into the workforce, and to include services as well as goods.”
Adelberg said the AbilityOne Commission’s evaluation was “complex – just the explanation of what it looks at runs to 14 pages. It didn’t focus solely on us as a rehabilitation program, but examined training practices, work environment and business aspects, too.” The result was easier to understand: a Gold Award, the commission’s highest designation.
The contract services program is accustomed to passing rigorous inspection. CARF International, which accredits health and human services providers, recently spent three days scrutinizing the Community Based Contract Services program – an inspection that the program passed with flying colors, according to Adelberg.
“Out of 400 standards of evaluation, they had only five recommendations,” he said, “which the CARF inspector said was unheard of. Of course, we had expert help from Nanette Cohen, the JVS Chicago Director of Employment Development, who is a CARF-certified inspector.”
Cohen said that Adelberg is “driven to provide quality services; his dedication and passion for our clients and customers is evident on a daily basis.” She also pointed to a key ingredient in his success – “throughout Art’s 30 years at JVS Chicago, he has always led with his heart, putting the clients and customers first.”
Adelberg said his emotional resonance with the program came from his own painful experience. While running a punch press during a student summer job, he severed his thumb, which had to be surgically sewn onto his hand. Going through surgery and rehab gave him intimate awareness of the challenges faced by many people with disabilities.
Something that his program doesn’t do, according to Adelberg, is to rest on its laurels.
“Business is always changing, and we keep up,” he said. “For example, because of email, mailrooms that once required six people can get by with one or two, and there also is less demand for printing copies. On the other hand, all government agencies are being required to digitize all their documents, a huge job, so we’re looking to move ahead into that area of operation.”
Teamwork is taking CBS forward, said Adelberg – “Staff and client worker representatives work together in development of action items for work site and programmatic improvements” – and he said the program is “on track to continue reaching its strategic plan goals.”
While the focus of CBS is government contracts, it also informs the other programs at JVS Chicago that provide employment services for businesses and for people with disabilities, increasing the agency’s expertise. If your business would like our help with opening the hiring process to include more people with disabilities, call 855.INFO.JVS or email firstname.lastname@example.org.