Providing Work and Pride to the Disabled

Mary Jackson | WORLD News Service | Monday, January 16, 2012

Providing Work and Pride to the Disabled

(WNS) -- Transit vans pull up to a brick and glass building in Roseville, a Sacramento suburb, and 600 employees head to work. Some head to the bustling warehouse, using fork-lifts to load piles of shrink-wrapped boxes into trucks. Others sit quietly at computers or microscopes where they solder microscopic pieces for laser printers.

Pride Industries runs like a typical manufacturing and facility services company, except for one main difference -- many of its workers have disabilities.

Melvin Anderson, 58, of Los Angeles sees Pride as his “second chance.” The Vietnam War veteran spent years in and out of jobs, rehab programs, and homelessness. Six years ago, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, making him eligible for a lifetime of government paychecks. Just before accepting, he heard about Pride.

“I thought, I’m still able-bodied and healthy, why should I get a check when I don’t work?” Anderson said. Now in his fifth year, Anderson is a general maintenance serviceman for Pride at the Los Angeles Air Force Base.

In the past two years, the company has grown 20 percent, expanding out of its headquarters in Sacramento to 11 states and D.C. It employs 4,200 people -- over 2,400 of them with disabilities -- making it one of the nation’s largest employers of people with disabilities.

This month Pride CEO Michael Ziegler will receive the “Sacramentan of the Year” award from the Metro Chamber of Commerce, an award Ziegler said he “would have craved” before coming to Pride. With a background in sales, Ziegler said he used to work for money and recognition. But after coming to Pride 30 years ago, he not only helped turn the fledgling company into a viable business, he also underwent personal transformation.

“I had no idea the impact giving someone meaningful work would have not only on them, but on their family, relatives, and friends -- for me, there’s no greater joy,” Ziegler said.

The company started in a church basement in 1966, as a group of parents met to discuss ways to help their disabled children find suitable work. Originally named Placer Rehabilitation Industries, the grant-dependent company operated as a small workshop for workers with disabilities.

Pride’s founding group of parents hired Ziegler to expand their services, which now includes medical device manufacturing, contract packaging, and facilities maintenance. Instead of vying for state and federal funds, the company is moving toward self-sufficiency: State funds now make up 10 percent of Pride’s revenues, with the rest comprised of commercial and federal contracts. Last year, the company completed over 400 contracts with businesses including Hewlett Packard, Kaiser Permanente and Wells Fargo Bank.

William Carson, 21, starts his days in the hand packaging warehouse, an open, airy room with a maze of conveyor stands lined with boxes. Here he inspects and loads packaged dried fruits and shrink wraps fragile kiosks going to malls. With Asperger’s syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism, Carson struggled through school with few friends and “a lot of discouragement,” his mother Robyn said. At Pride, his extreme attention to detail is considered an asset: “He’ll notice things none of us would,” manager Justin Underwood said.

Now, Carson is saving for college, something he previously resisted. “I don’t look at myself as someone with a disability any more -- I have skills to offer,” he said.

Competing with other nationwide companies presents challenges for Pride, now Sacramento’s third largest manufacturing and service company: “I used to sit down and try to pencil it out -- how we are able to compete and provide the same level, if not better, service -- I can’t do it,” Ziegler said.

“I attribute our success to the culture we have of support and wanting to see others reach their potential.”

c. 2012 WORLD News Service. Used with permission.

Publication date: January 14, 2012