People with disabilities find work in Carrboro

By Sarah Shah
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer
Every Wednesday morning, Luke Glatz collects raffle tickets from people attending a business leaders meeting. Later, he reads out ticket numbers to announce the lucky winners.

shah_evfinal.jpg Luke Glatz, 20, collects a raffle ticket from Margaret Cannell, executive director of the Hillsborough Chamber of Commerce, at Extraordinary Ventures. Luke is just one of 18 people with disabilities employed by Extraordinary Ventures, located at 200 S. Elliot Road in Chapel Hill.
Staff photo by Sarah Shah.

Despite having a developmental disability, the 20-year-old Glatz is one of the young adults who are employed at Extraordinary Ventures.

The Arc, the world’s largest community based organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, estimates that the unemployment rate for people with developmental disabilities is nearly 75 percent.

Extraordinary Adventures is a Chapel Hill non-profit organization whose primary mission is to provide employment opportunities for people with developmental disabilities ages 15 years and up.

“It’s important for them to have a sense of accomplishment, and know that they are worth something,” director of Extraordinary Ventures, Marc Roth said.

Roth said he rents out a 3,000 square feet conference center in Chapel Hill at which businesses and organizations can conduct meetings. The proceeds go directly to the employment of young adults with disabilities, who work at the center by helping to set up and clean up for events.

“I knew at the time [2007] there wasn’t a quality affordable meeting space in Chapel Hill,” he said. “This way we’re also providing a service to the community and making it a better place to live.”

Roth said the non-profit organization also helps provide employment to at-risk kids, such as those in foster care or students who have been suspended from school.

In addition to working at the conference center, Roth said employees often do work contracted with other local businesses. He said that every month employees can help pack copies of the Southern Neighbor newspaper and deliver them around the community. At other times, employees will work on sorting and mailing things for other businesses.

“This kind of venture can’t work in isolation, and the only way for this to work is to collaborate.” Roth said. “I’ve found that the support of the community has been tremendous.”

Roth said the school districts have also been phenomenal and will often bring classes with special needs students over to Extraordinary Ventures.

Jamie Bittner is a founder of Enabling Opportunities, a non-profit organization that coordinates activities between schools and job training facilities like Extraordinary Ventures for special needs populations.

“We work at the high school level to work on life skills, job readiness skills and community inclusion,” she said. “At [Extraordinary Ventures], the students come clean a bit, help pack newspapers and then cook lunch.”

Bittner said the students themselves have to buy the food used to make the lunch from the grocery store earlier in the week. She also said that after the work is done, the students get to partake in recreational activities at Extraordinary Ventures.

Extraordinary Ventures has a large recreational center with video and arcade games, as well as a karaoke machine. Twice a month, the center hosts a game night called “Friday Night Live.”

“[My favorite part] is just hanging out with people like you,” said Hunter Stanton, a Friday Night Live attendee for the past two years.

In addition, the ArtsCenter, a place where people can learn and practice drama, art and music in Carrboro, has partnered with Extraordinary Ventures to give acting classes.

“The kids get an outlet to express themselves, build a sense of community and just have fun,” said Jeri Lynn Schulke, director of the Youth Performing Arts Conservatory at the ArtsCenter.

Schulke said the program started off well.

“A lot of people think they’re stupid, they’re slow and they’re not going to understand something,” Schulke said. “But it’s actually kind of been the opposite.”

Roth said that there’s a feeling of empowerment that comes out of everything for the employees, and that an at-risk young adult once told him how incredible the opportunity to work had been.

“If I weren’t here working, I’d be out on the streets,” he told Roth.

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