A snack shop at the Belleville MetroLink station now employs people with disabilities, providing on-the-job training to a community that often faces barriers to employment.
It’s a new opportunity from Challenge Unlimited, a non-profit that connects adults who have disabilities to jobs, job training and apprenticeships. St. Clair County Transit District provides the space and some funding to support the shop, A Quick Bite.
In 2018, people with disabilities were unemployed and seeking jobs at twice the rate of persons with no disability, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Whitney Harvey, a business development associate for Challenge Unlimited, said that the snack shop will help people with disabilities who want jobs get work experience and pursue independence.
“Training programs like this I feel like are essential because it’s teaching them how they can be a part of the community,” Harvey said. “They’re earning a paycheck, and they’re able to say, ‘Hey, I have a job, I got this paycheck, I was able to buy a car.’ It means everything to them.”
A training opportunity
Nancy Sayles, 51, is training in food service at A Quick Bite after 30 years working as a dishwasher at Scott Air Force Base through Challenge Unlimited.
Sayles said she likes the new post at A Quick Bite because she gets to interact with a variety of people.
Sayles is one of six employees currently working at A Quick Bite. The employees make a starting hourly wage of $8.25 and work six to 18 hours a week. Employees who handle food at A Quick Bite also get certified as a food handler, which qualifies them to work at other food service locations.
Some Challenge Unlimited clients go on to work at other businesses in the community after receiving food service training, Harvey said.
Barriers to employment
People with disabilities face many barriers to employment, even when they are qualified. In a 2012 survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people with disabilities reported a lack of transportation, lack of education or training and a need for accommodations as barriers.
The transit district helps Challenge Unlimited address one of those barriers by providing its call-a-ride service to A Quick Bite’s employees.
St. Clair County Transit provides A Quick Bite a rent-free space at the St. Clair Transit Plaza. It also helps fund the shop by providing $2,000 per month, transit district representatives said.
Managing director of St. Clair County Transit District Ken Sharkey said that this partnership could also lead to additional opportunities for Challenge Unlimited’s clients. The district will soon replace a retiring part-time janitor and has discussed hiring people through Challenge Unlimited, Sharkey said.
The shop is open from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and sells snacks and metro passes to commuters.
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