Some anglers may envy the task that Chris Ingram is handling this week. He is assembling a new fishing lure called the Genesis Ti, a product from Omega Custom Tackle Company of St. Louis that is popular among professional and amateur fishermen. Yet Chris has no time for fishing today. He is busy working at JSI, also known as Jeffco Subcontracting, Inc., a sheltered workshop at 2065 Pomme Road in Arnold, Missouri.
Chris is developmentally disabled. He spends about 30 hours every week assembling and packaging different types of products for JSI customers in metro St. Louis. "It's a good job," he says with a smile.
About 110 JSI employees who are developmentally disabled work there. Every employee earns a paycheck, receives Social Security benefits, and makes a positive difference.
Dozens of companies, large and small, rely on JSI employees for production assistance so those companies can be more efficient and competitive - companies like Barnhart Industries, CCP Newco, Luxco, Schlafly Beer, Thiel Tool & Engineering, and more.
On a short-term, seasonal, or a continuing basis, JSI employees provide assembly, packaging, re-packaging, collating, de-collating, product inspection, labeling, re-labeling, and custom work at its 44,000 sq ft facility. JSI saves customers money by eliminating their need to buy assembly equipment, or special equipment for heat-sealing, stretch-wrapping, heat-shrinking, blister packing, or clamshell packaging needs. Its overhead is low compared to that of some other temporary work agencies. And it provides a working life for special people who might not find paychecks elsewhere.
Russ Kuttenkuler is JSI's Executive Director. He joined the not-for-profit 501(C) 3 organization in January 2015. Earlier, he worked as a unit manager for German chemical company Henkel, as an engineering manager at Sigma Aldrich, and as a site operations leader at Solutia, Inc. He earned a B.S. degree in chemical engineering from the University of Missouri - Columbia.
Kuttenkuler left corporate business for JSI because "I wanted to do something in my life more service oriented than what I used to do in previous jobs. In this line of work, JSI makes a positive difference for our employees and for our customers every day." JSI was in trouble when Kuttenkuler joined the enterprise in 2015. Several customers had pulled their business, and another announced it was moving product packaging and assembly operations from JSI to a facility in Mexico.
"When I got here JSI really did not have a sales, marketing, or much of a customer service function," Kuttenkuler says, "and some customers were not happy with JSI services at the time." In July 2017 he hired Kelly Baker as full time Sales & Business Development Manager.
Baker earned a B.S.B.A. degree from the University of Missouri - St. Louis. She worked as a sales representative for Capital Steel, Inc. for nearly five years before joining JSI. In addition to her JSI role, she is a Certified RYT-200 Yoga instructor in her spare time. "I love to help people," she says. "Working with JSI is a lot more helpful to people than selling steel."
At JSI, she is responsible for increasing the workload to provide continuing employment for employees. "Customer work that we attract offers our employees a sense of security and accomplishment, and a degree of financial independence. It also motivates our people. The things we do here and the people we benefit are gratifying in many ways."
In the late 1960s, the State of Missouri passed legislation referred to as "Chapter 205.968 through 205.972 of the Revised Missouri Statutes." This permitted counties to establish a mill tax for the purpose of developing and expanding sheltered workshops, residential and support services for their citizens with developmental disabilities.
In 1978 Jefferson County voters established the Jefferson County Commission for the Handicapped through the passage of "Proposition S - The Special Ones." That year, Jefferson County Commissioners appointed the first handicapped facilities board consisting of nine members.
Essentially, JSI was founded in 1979 by a group of local parents whose adult children were developmentally disabled but could not find meaningful paying jobs. The local parents' group and others in Missouri had advocated with legislators and business leaders to help establish the Jefferson County Commission for the Handicapped and to pass Proposition S.
JSI's local umbrella organization is Developmental Disability Advocates, a Jefferson County governmental entity that administers county property tax dollars for services that benefit individuals with developmental disabilities. It provides resources to create opportunities.
In Missouri today, approximately 6,300 people with developmental disabilities earn money working at 90 sheltered workshops. The state's system is known as the Extended Employment Sheltered Workshop Program. It is not connected to Medicaid and it is funded by state, local, and business activities. Workshop employees are paid based on their ability to perform. If an employee produces 50% of what a non-disabled person produces, they're paid 50% of what that person makes. JSI employees who are developmentally disabled can earn wages of up to $10.34 per hour, depending on their abilities, Kuttenkuler says.
Kuttenkuler, who is a member of The Missouri Association of Sheltered Workshop Managers advocacy organization, recently announced some very good news. In October of this year, JSI achieved record-breaking operational results that were 10% higher than the organization's previous record-breaking month. He credits JSI's entire organization with achieving that milestone, including all of the facility's employees and supervisors/managers Paula Aleto, Ken Curfman, David Schumer, Christie Schumer, Gena Dunn, Susan Wilds, and Sandy Suschank.
"We offer a big shout out and thanks from deep in our hearts to every one of our customer companies, without whom we could not achieve our mission and goals," Kuttenkuler asserts.
Kuttenkuler and Baker are proud that JSI has been able to sustain employment for its workers so that the employees can have a place to go every day, maintain self esteem, and earn a paycheck.
Kuttenkuler says that the management skills he transferred from corporate business to JSI are not as different as some people might think. "The business skills are very similar," he explains. "Like a corporation, JSI is a business - we make stuff, we sell stuff, we negotiate prices, and we generate income."
"Managing employees who have developmental disabilities is not all that different from managing employees who do not have them. No matter who they are, employees everywhere are human beings and they deal with similar issues." For company testimonials about JSI employees' commitment to their work and delivering high-quality results for customers, scroll through the JSI website (www.jsi.org).
"By working here, JSI employees gain internal motivation," Baker asserts. "They feel accomplished as individuals and as part of a work-life community. Many have worked here for more than 20 years. Check us out. If your company has some work that we can do for you, let us know!" Call 636-296-6211.
- Story by Jeff Dunlap for the City of Arnold, Missouri
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