In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness month, Empac Group Inc. will host four open houses later this month.
The invite for all of the open houses is extended to anyone who works with people who have disabilities, such as, service providers, housing, assistant services and schools.
Two open houses will be held for teachers and service providers — the first will be Friday, Oct. 25, at the north location in Washington from 12:30-3:30 p.m. and Wednesday, Oct. 30, from 12:30-3:30 p.m. at the south location in Sullivan.
The other two will be held for family members and friends of Empac employees Wednesday, Oct. 30, at 10:45 a.m. through 12:30 p.m. at the south location and Thursday, Oct. 31, from 10:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the north location.
The goal is to have those guests refer people to Empac for employment.
“We know there are a lot of people out there who we’re not serving,” said Colleen Himmelberg, executive director of Empac employment resources.
Empac Group Inc. was formed in 2013 after the merger of Sheltered Workshop Inc. in Washington and Sheltered Industries of the Meramec Valley in Sullivan. The two facilities provide employment opportunities for around 225-230 individuals with disabilities.
The company provides contract packaging through means of shrink wrap, custom wood fabrication, labeling, assembly and other services.
“We produce just the same as any other packaging company in St. Louis,” said John Walsh, plant manager.
One of the goals of the open houses is to get the word out about what the company provides and who it can serve.
“Any level (of ability) is welcome here,” said Himmelberg, noting they have different jobs to fit the individual based on their abilities.
Employees with disabilities fill roles in quality, as factory workers or as facilitators. The facilitators help unload trucks, drive the forklift, help with building plans and keep track of production counts.
The primary focus of Empac is helping individuals in Franklin County, but Himmelberg said the company does have employees from across the river. She noted many employees use OATS Transit to get to and from work.
“We all need to work for our mental health,” she said. “We provide a place for them to earn pay in a supported environment.”
In addition to having a job, Himmelberg said employees build strong friendships with their coworkers, work hard to advance in their job and build confidence.
“They start having a say in their lives,” said Walsh.
“When you work and gain confidence, you gain the skills necessary to advocate for yourself,” said Himmelberg, noting that many of their employ ees are part of the A Team Missouri, which provides a platform for people with disabilities and their family members to advocate for themselves in challenging opinions, misconceptions and legislation that impacts their lives.
“It’s amazing to see what our employees can do,” said Debbie Maynard, quality coordinator. “We are very proud of them.”
Himmelberg said Empac is always hiring. “We want to help as many as possible,” she said.
Anyone who plans to attend one of the open houses should RSVP to 573-468-3888. If someone would like to tour the facility, but is not available during those times, they can call that number to schedule a tour at their convenience.
Aside from providing employment, Empac also has a JobOps division that acts as a resource for individuals looking for employment elsewhere.
The JobOps provides vocational rehab for anyone 18 and older, and DMH services for those 16 and older. The program supports individuals in career exploration, resume building, completing applications, interviews, on-site job training when needed, job retention and more.
The program also helps with learning soft skills like networking, hygiene care, job boundaries and being professional.
Additionally, JobOps provides a summer work opportunity for high school students to have six weeks supported with a job coach. This is a pilot program and last year Empac had 30 kids work at five different locations.
The support through JobOps will continue with each person until they are independent in their job. JobOps stays in contact with the employer and employee, but really stress the importance of the relationship between the employee and employer.
Next year, JobOps will unveil a program specially designed for individuals with autism.