‘It’s a place for us to learn’: Wichita program offers jobs, opportunities to people with developmental disabilities

Positive Connections

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — A Wichita community-based nonprofit offers people with developmental disabilities job opportunities while helping the environment.

Starkey’s e-cyling program accepts electronic waste from the general public and local businesses. It employs people with disabilities to take the items apart and sort them for sale to local recycling companies.

“It has helped me out quite a bit. Over the years I have been working here, I have learned a lot,” said Starkey employee and client Lee.

Lee started with Starkey nearly 40 years ago. He got his first job in maintenance. KSN asked Lee what the nonprofit means to him.

“It’s a place for us to learn different job skills,” Lee explained.

Client Natalie Knoblauch said Starkey and particularly the e-cycling program offer opportunities to take on new responsibilities and start toward financial freedom.

“My favorite part is money, my paycheck,” laughed Knoblauch.

Starkey’s CEO calls the program, which opened 15 years ago, a win, win.

“We haven’t found the downside of this one yet,” said Starkey Inc. CEO Colin McKenney.

McKenney said it teaches clients the basics of a job while encouraging them to grow as individuals and as employees.

“I am going to show up on time. I am going to focus on my work. I am going to give you some strong effort for the pay that I am receiving. I am going to respect others, so it’s everything under the sun,” McKenney said.

McKenney added the program lets clients see a job from beginning to end.

“It is that sense of accomplishment,” he explained. “When you are talking about taking apart a computer or an electronic item, and you are able to think through what the disassembly needs to look like, so you are maximizing the value of those components, it does bring a smile to your face because I got this right and I am making a difference.”

Starkey recycles approximately 271,000 pounds or about 135 tons of electronics each year. The free e-cycling program is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday at Starkey’s main building, 4500 W Maple.

It accepts most items from the public, but it cannot take televisions, large CRT computer monitors, copy machines, or microwaves.

Starkey serves about 450 people with intellectual disabilities each year. It offers employment, life enrichment, and case management programs and has 40 homes and apartments in the Wichita area for supported living options.

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