Last September, I participated in the dedication of the Inland Northwest Lighthouse (INL), in Spokane. What previously had been a rundown grocery store was transformed into a new manufacturing operation, offering the promise of much-needed jobs for Spokane's blind community.
At the time, the INL employed 19 people-six sighted and 13 blind. Since then, the number of blind employees has risen to 26, putting us on track to beat our recruitment goal of 40 by the end of 2009. Prior to the facility's opening, these workers were part of a community in which, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 70 percent of people are unemployed.
We at The Lighthouse for the Blind Inc., parent of the INL and the Seattle Lighthouse, knew for a while that we wanted to expand to Spokane. We were aware there were many blind and deaf-blind residents here who wanted jobs, but couldn't relocate to our facility in Seattle.
Another convincing reason for us was that the Spokane community wanted us. One of our biggest allies in opening the INL was Stan Key, Greater Spokane Incorporated's manufacturing industry manager. Also, representatives of the city, including Mayor Mary Verner and the City Council, worked to make the project easy for us and accessible to our employees. Among the many ways they demonstrated their support was to install the city's first three audible pedestrian signals at intersections close to our North Addison Street facility, with a commitment to add another in the near future.
The Spokane Transit Authority, particularly ombudsman Susan Milbank, helped make the facility accessible to our employees by arranging paratransit ride options for people who lived outside of walking distance or for whom public transportation wasn't a viable option.
We also received tremendous support from numerous other people and organizations. Among the legislators backing us were state Sen. Lisa Brown and U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray. Agencies giving their support included the Washington state Department of Services for the Blind and vocational rehabilitation counselor Kim Daubl, the Lilac Services for the Blind, and the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce. Others lending a hand included Joel Crosby, of Tomlinson Black Inc.; the Spokane Club; Waynco Construction Inc.; Division 9 Finishes Inc.; Door Specialties Inc.; and Labor Ready Inc.
It's not just me giving thanks. The people most thankful for these generous contributions are INL employees. Because of your support, we're able to offer jobs at competitive wages so that those who otherwise might be unemployed can support their families and be contributing members of society.
One such person is Kurt Lantz. He relocated to Spokane from Everett because he'd heard the economy here was stronger. He attempted to make a living as a musician, but needed to make more money to support his family. Totally blind, he now works at the INL as a production worker.
Kurt tells how important his work is to him: "It's good work and gives me a good sense of purpose. As a blind person, I get to work and provide for my kids, so my wife can stay home-she's a stay-at-home mom. It's one of the best opportunities in my life to provide for my family and have work-meaningful work."
At The Lighthouse for the Blind, we pride ourselves in providing each employee with the support they need to succeed in the workplace. In my mind, part of that support is letting the Spokane community know how much we appreciate its cooperation in INL getting started and creating jobs.
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