Tempe Nonprofit Fosters Empowerment Through Employment

Each work day, the staff at ASDD Document Destruction in Tempe process upwards of 10 tons of paper. The documents, which come from individuals and businesses small and large throughout the state, are hand separated (white, mixed and garbage), shredded and then sent for recycling where they are turned back into consumer products such as paper towels, toilet paper and even drywall.

The giant bales of paper that line the floor of ASDD’s shredding room are imposing, while the constant roar of machinery and blur of activity from people and forklifts create a sense of industrial urgency. But while this busy operation—the fourth-largest shred¬ding business in the state, and the official document shredder for the State of Arizona and the state division of the IRS—may at first appear to be a typical money-making venture, a closer look at its employees reveals a much more altruistic purpose.
ASDD is just one of the many programs of The Centers of Habilitation (TCH), a nonprofit organization whose goal is to provide services that support, care for and empower adults with develop¬mental and physical disabilities.

Founded in 1967 by a group of parents with disabled children, TCH has over the years evolved into an organization with 13 group homes in the greater Phoenix area, three in Tucson, and onsite and community-based employment programs that provide pay¬ing jobs for more than 200 disabled individuals who live in those group homes with their families or on their own.

“Our mission is to find creative and innovative ways to provide hope and purpose to individuals with disabilities,” says Shana Ellis, president and CEO of TCH. “For a lot of people with develop¬mental disabilities, if they weren’t in a day program or they weren’t employed, they’d be sitting home alone. And we know that with any population, being isolated has all sorts of dramatic effects on the psyche, on the body, on everything. We really contribute in a huge way to the quality of life of our employees and of those in a day programs.”

That quality of life is evident on the floors of the shredding room. Each training associate is provided a job that suits his or her physical abilities. Whether they’re simply separating white paper from colored paper (all employees work at their own pace; no demands or quotas are placed on them) or—for one associate who is blind—removing paper from books, or emptying recycling bins or stacking boxes of paper yet to be processed, each associate feels a sense of pride in his or her work—and in his or her own self. Smiles and self-confidence abound.
Elsewhere in the Tempe offices, other associates assemble Arizona Parent Kits that are provided to parents of newborns through First Things First, or packing and shipping custom shirts for Paper Clouds Apparel, among other jobs, all of which are paid positions.

High-functioning individuals can even gain employment in the community. Businesses such as Bashas’, Dave & Buster’s, Medtronic, Sunrise Preschools and St. Luke’s Medical Center contract with TCH and provide jobs for those able and willing to work outside of the TCH offices. TCH has also developed projects as part of the federal government’s AbilityOne Program, providing maintenance, food service operations, custodial management, and more at military bases throughout the state.

“The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is double what it is for a typical person, so the population is very hard to employ to begin with,” says Ellis. “Some of our associates have never had a job in their entire lives. These programs really provide a sense of purpose.”

ASDD provides shredding services to both businesses and individuals, and all of the income generated by the shredding business is used to fund TCH’s other programs and group homes. Volunteers are also welcome, whether its an individual who wants to spend time reading to the associates or teaching them how to paint or a company that would like to adopt a group home and host dinners and holiday events.

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