Turning disabilities into possibilities

Disabled “clients” and Lincoln Training Center staff keep products rolling to market at the 35,000-square-foot facility on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013 in South El Monte.

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Lincoln Training Center celebrates 50 years

By Tim Traeger
SOUTH EL MONTE – What they do makes a difference every day. How they do it buoys the spirits of those who may have been tossed from mainstream society or witnessed their combined potentials overlooked.
So when the Lincoln Training Center opened its doors on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013 for an open house to celebrate its first 50 years, it also showed the nonprofit organization lives up to its guiding motto, “Turning Disabilities into Possibilities.”
About 100 invited guests from across the Southland came to the center’s 35,000-square-foot headquarters at 2643 Loma Ave. to see the about 200 disabled “clients” packaging goods, bundling bars of soap but, most importantly, holding down real jobs.
“As you can see, we’re kind of busy today,” said Lincoln’s vice president of operations, Gary T. Griffen. “Each one of our clients gets a paycheck every two weeks.”
Griffen said Lincoln has centers in Sacramento, Fresno and another in Vista near San Diego. But the nonprofit’s reach touches many communities. He has worked in his position for 26 years. Many administrators at the center have tenures longer than two decades.
“We have clients who come from the Whittier area. A lot of our support comes from Whittier,” Griffen said. “Most of our clients who come through this center are referred to us through the San Gabriel Valley Regional Center … we just go where life takes us to provide more jobs.”
On this day many clients were packaging “chip boards” for painting contractors. Those boards will be shipped to stores like Sam’s Club, Costco, Lowe’s and Home Depot. Yet the center also provides custodial, grounds maintenance and general contracting.
“And we’re also looking to get more involved with disabled veterans,” Griffen said. “Starting next year we have big plans for that.”
For Bret Kirkpatrick, CEO of Bay Cities Inc. in Pico Rivera, Lincoln provides a reliable workforce for his marketing company that lowers the firm’s bottom line.
“We have a team from Lincoln that reports every day at our facility. They do packing, and different types of jobs for our clients that are part of our core business. They come to work on time. They are excited about what they’re doing. They do a great job every day for us and they’re reliable. It’s a really nice relationship,” Kirkpatrick said.
“What I like the most about it really, is when I come into work it’s an example for all of our employees. We interact with these folks. There’s one employee named Mikey. He’s so fired up. ‘How you doing?’ ‘Awesome!’ Why aren’t we so excited about our jobs?” Kirkpatrick said. His company of 125 full-time staff has been in Pico Rivera for 57 years.
“They perform all types of cleaning detail. Different packing jobs. We’re evaluating the use of more (Lincoln) teams and how we can integrate that. As the minimum wage goes up, we see an opportunity to integrate more Lincoln crews into the packing area,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s the proverbial win-win.”
Michael Doss of Belmont Shore, whose wife owns Brown’s Jewelry and Loan in Rosemead on Garvey Avenue, said the couple recently joined Lincoln’s “Affair of the Heart” committee. There’s a reason why the couple got behind one of Lincoln’s largest annual fund-raisers.
“I was so impressed by everything I learned that I wanted to get involved. It truly is a wonderful operation. Every one of us needs purpose in life. We have to feel valued. We have to feel like there’s something more out there. That’s what this gives. A significance and a purpose in life,” Doss said. “They really care about life. When they can’t come in, they call. They really care about their jobs.”
But beyond bottom lines and shorter unemployment lines, there’s a higher sense of purpose for many who work at Lincoln.
Noreen Baca, director of marketing and development, has been at Lincoln for 17 years. For her, staff longevity and career satisfaction comes from, “The work we do for our clients. We love our clients and it’s amazing to see the ability they have.”
For RoseMary Garza, Lincoln vice president of rehabilitation programs who supervises the staff that gives guidance to disabled clients working at the center, her job of 26 years offers a level of fulfillment a mere paycheck can’t provide.
“It’s extremely fulfilling to see these individuals being provided the opportunity to go out and display their abilities,” Garza said. “They are excellent employees. A lot of the information we receive from many of the contacts we have out in the community say that they are truly an added benefit at their locations.
“They say they really put a smile on people’s faces. They tell us they really lift the bar for their entry-level staff. On payday they’re so thrilled to get their paychecks. They show up on time. They appreciate their jobs. They have good attitudes when they’re there. They display appreciation for the work that they’re doing. They want to please everybody. Customer service is important to them,” Garza said. “They want to do a good job.”
Tim Traeger is former editor of the Whittier Daily News. Reach him at ttraeger@411whittier.com or call 626-646-7352.

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