Quest, an adult education program based in Lebanon, has helped those with disabilities gain employment and participate throughout the community for the last 15 years.
They have placed people in jobs that have turned into a decade-long career, and even helped produce the music of one of its members that ultimately turned into a record deal.
Now, Quest is asking for the community to give back, so they can make updates to their 50-year-old building, located on Metro Drive near the Cedar Haven Healthcare Center.
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The nonprofit organization, which was set up in the late-1950s to provide services to people with disabilities, now serves approximately 100 adults out of its building.
Its members can come five days a week, or just a few hours, all depending on what they and their families need.
The building was originally constructed in 1972 as a place where members would work in its industrial workshop for below-minimum wage. It is now a place where they can go for its day program and where they can learn anything from marketable job skills to more everyday things like laundry and counting change.
“(Quest) educates employers as to the benefits of hiring people with disabilities,” said Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce President Karen Groh, “while providing continued support throughout those job placements.”
Since their decision to move away from the industrial workshop, Quest has focused on providing one-on-one guidance to their members along with optional group activities and education.
Mike Barnhart, who runs the employment division, works to connect employers with his clients and then trains and helps develop a healthy work regime for them. He also negotiates with the employer to help fit the needs of the client and schedule continued support for them throughout employment.
Barnhart said that Quest has helped break down the stigma that employers have had when it comes to hiring people with disabilities. Part of that process is not presenting to the potential employers that the clients have any certain disability, especially when it comes to those who are highly functional.
The results, Barnhart says, have been grand.
“The businesses that we have collaborated with have begun to receive recognition and awards regionally and locally. We have clients that have been recognized as employee of the year, (received) newcomer awards, businesses that have received industry recognition for diversifying their workforce,” he said. “Those things weren’t happening 10 years ago.”
Barnhart said that he often has businesses that have worked with Quest in the past reach out to him for employment recommendations when they need to fill a position.
He recounted one client that he has worked with for years, Christian Murphy, who has been working at the Giant (formerly Musser’s Market) on Quentin Road for roughly 10 years.
Murphy has autism and is quiet but is highly functional, his father Mike Fornwalt said.
“The job is really important to him,” Fornwalt said. “Rain, snow, hot, cold. It doesn’t matter, he just loves to go to work.”
Fornwalt said that Mike Barnhart and Quest have been instrumental in Murphy’s success, and that without that support he might have never gotten out of his shell as much as he has. Since his employment, and an adjustment period, Murphy’s personality has changed entirely, bringing out the best that he had to offer, his father said.
Now, Murphy even helps train newcomers at the store, something that Fornwalt could never even have imaged happening.
“Even the customers know his name,” Fornwalt said. “When we’re shopping at other grocery stores, people come out of the woodwork to say ‘hi’ to Christian, to tell them how good of a job he is doing.”
Executive director of Quest, Verna Morris, said that when they decided to do away with the workshop program there were only 15 people in it. Some of those joined the day program, and some of them left entirely. Others were able to find employment through the program.
“Several of them got jobs that nobody ever thought were going to get jobs,” Morris said, “you know, because we assisted them and helped them.”
While Quest has changed its methods, the building has remained unchanged other than a redecoration of the workshop, which now operates as the main room for its day program.
The building as it stands is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“We’ve had to share with people that we’re not really equipped right at this point to assist you,” Morris said. “We’d love to, but when individuals need an A.D.A. bathroom, they also need assistance, they need two or three people in a bathroom with them, and our bathrooms just weren’t designed for that.”
Its front entrance is not wide enough, nor does it have an automatic door opener. The window to the front office is too high, and none of the bathrooms throughout the building are up to A.D.A. standards.
What’s the plan?
The roughly $850,000 project will be undertaken in phases, and construction will begin once funding for the first phase is reached.
The first phase of the remodel will make the front door of the building A.D.A compliant and make the lobby more wheelchair accessible.
During the second phase, the outside parking lot will be repaved, making it more accommodating to pick-ups and drop-offs while also maintaining a place in the front for parking.
During the first two phases, a side door, which is wheelchair accessible, will be used as the primary entrance. The building will not be shut down, and operations will remain as they are for the entirety of the project.
Nathan Fry, project manager for Author Funk & Sons Construction Services, which will be doing the construction side of the project, said that there’s no real prediction as to how long the work might take, or when it will even begin, as the projects will begin as enough money for each phase is crowdfunded.
As the phases become completed, they will focus more and more on creature comforts and updating rather than necessity. Flooring, ceilings, windows, lighting and insulation will all be redone in the later stages of the project.
Quest will be kicking off its capital project fundraising drive on July 28 at 6 p.m. with a benefit gathering, where further plans on the construction, along with a draftsman’s rendering, will be shared.
To learn more or donate, visit paquest.com.
To RVSP to the capital project kickoff, contact Verna Morris at [email protected] or call at 717-273-8118.