Lakestate Industries: working hard to help

by Pam Christensen

1411_arts_lakestate_kevinOne of Kevin’s first thoughts every morning is whether today is a work day. Kevin eagerly looks forward to work and anticipates what the day will hold on a day he reports to work. How many people can say the opportunity to hold a job is one of the things they most appreciate and look forward to each day?
For Kevin and the ninety-nine other employees of Lakestate Industries in Marquette, a day at work is a day to be relished. Whether working on a crew traveling throughout the area performing yard work, mowing lawns, shoveling snow, cleaning or painting, or staying inside the busy workshop located in Chocolay Township, the day brings a satisfying result—a task accomplished, independence and a paycheck.
Lakestate Industries was founded forty years ago in Escanaba by a group of parents trying to establish a meaningful work situation for their children with disabilities. Lakestate is dedicated to helping recognize and maximize abilities, overcome barriers and support clients in reaching their highest level of employment and community inclusion.
Receiving referrals from Pathways, Michigan Rehabilitation Services, Michigan Works!, Michigan Commission for the Blind, Delta Intermediate School District and Marquette Alger Educational Resource Center, Lakestate is credentialed through the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.
At the urging of concerned parents and human service professionals, the Marquette County program was established a year and a half ago at the former Marquette Meats plaza located at 1500 East U.S. M-28. What started out as a work opportunity for thirty-eight adults with disabilities has grown to a satellite enterprise employing one hundred adults. The organization projects at some point, it could provide employment for 400 individuals.
Barbara is the mother of Emily, a thirty-three-year-old young adult with developmental disabilities and Down Syndrome. Emily’s parents tried to make her life as active and meaningful as possible, but the two of them never even considered Emily would someday have employment. When Barbara heard Lakestate Industries was considering a Marquette County facility, she got involved.
“I attended meetings to show my support for this fine opportunity being offered to Marquette community members with disabilities. When Lakestate opened, I was beginning to see the possibility of a place for Emily within the organization. Ultimately, Emily was accepted into the program,” said Barbara.
“Emily loves working at Lakestate. With their excellent guidance she has learned to do various jobs. Her two workdays are posted on her calendar, and she eagerly looks forward to them. She enjoys being with friends and learning new skills. She now understands the meaning of her paycheck, and deciding how it will be spent,” she added.
Workers are evaluated upon hire, to determine the jobs best suited to their skills. They also are periodically tested on their production. The wage for each employee is established based on work performed and output. All employees receive an hourly wage, based on skills and abilities. Employees are given opportunities to improve and develop new skills. Some find a job they like and stick with it. Others, like Kevin, challenge themselves by learning new skills and improving production.
1411_arts_lakestate_tami“Kevin is happiest when he can be outdoors raking, mowing or shoveling. He is not deterred by the weather,” said Tami Hector, program manager for the Marquette facility. “He also likes to work on the cleaning and painting crews. He was one of our first employees, and he is always willing to learn new jobs. He never grumbles when he is doing something that he doesn’t like. He is happy to have a job to do, any job.”
He enjoys doing jigsaw puzzles and working with his hands, and is eagerly awaiting the day the Marquette facility is able to produce the wooden crates and some of the furniture and gardening items produced in Escanaba. This would allow him to develop additional skills, and build useful items for the agency’s customers.
David Roggeman serves as the Marquette Lakestate employment coordinator. He works with local agencies and businesses to place employees in work settings where they can thrive and excel. His main focus is developing jobs in the community which can be performed by clients. He works with each employer to identify opportunities within their organization that can be filled by a Lakestate Industries worker. Once a suitable position is found, he works with potential employees to develop a resume and interview skills. In some cases, he helps employees enter the workforce by providing clothing or other equipment. Roggeman works one-on-one to train and coach employees until the necessary responsibilities of the job have been mastered.
“If I could, I would find a suitable worksite for each of our clients who wants to work outside of our workshop. So many of them have so much to offer, and they want to work. The job market is competitive, but in the sites I have been able to place our workers, the employer has been satisfied. We work very hard to make sure the employer is receiving a quality employee who is well trained, with customized job-specific training, and eager to work. I hope that additional employers will consider what Lakestate Industries has to offer their agency or business”, said Roggeman.
Lakestate Industries contracts with businesses and organizations to provide work crews that do paper shredding, envelope stuffing, packaging, custodial work and grounds maintenance. The organization would like to expand its contracts for these services. Each team works with a supervisor, and is scheduled to perform duties at the convenience of the work site. The agency uses its own vans to transport workers. Many of the vans have been donated to the organization by other nonprofits, and are reaching the end of their usefulness. Shelby Bischoff, business development and community engagement manager for Lakestate, is exploring partnerships or donations of new vehicles, so work crews can be transported in a reliable and safe manner. Wheels to Work is a fund-raising mechanism the organization is using to secure funding for new vehicles. More information about this project is available on the Marquette location’s Facebook page.
The 10,000 square foot facility in Chocolay Township is a beehive of activity. Employees are busy sorting, shredding and baling paper. The organization has contracts with many local businesses to perform confidential shredding. Bales of paper are sold to U.P. paper companies. In a true effort to reuse, repurpose and recycle, some of the shredded paper is made into the agency’s signature Yooper Firestarters.
1411_arts_lakestate_yooper_firestartersRecycled toilet paper tubes are filled with shredded paper. The process has been standardized by the creation of a wooden jig that holds the toilet paper tube and a wooden press, used to make sure the shredded paper is tightly compressed in the tube.
Once the tube is stuffed, another worker dips it in melted wax. What is created is a brightly colored and festive looking paper and wax firestarter that can be used in a wood stove, fireplace, sauna or fire pit. Lakestate accepts donations of cardboard toilet paper rolls and candle wax. It accepts almost any type of candle, even those in jars.
Yooper Firestarters can be purchased by the crate in twenty, forty, sixty, eighty or 100-piece lots, or by the bag. Firestarters are sold across the U.S. through a network of distributors. This year, the pink paper, mostly made from pink While You Were Out message forms, were separated and used to make pink Firestarters, to help raise money to aid in the fight against breast cancer.
Firestarters are not the only product made by Lakestate. The company produces pallets, and will custom make pallets of any size for customers. Its website, features a catalog of items produced by work crews. At this time, pallets, survey stakes, deck boards, wooden furniture and crates are made in Escanaba, but the organization hopes to raise funds to purchase equipment to begin production of crates and small furniture items at the Marquette facility.
Although furniture and garden items are built in Escanaba, they can be ordered and picked up in Marquette. Outdoor furniture, such as cedar benches, deck coolers, portable gardens, pallet planters and cedar box planters are built to withstand Upper Peninsula weather conditions. Trash and storage bins can be customized with tile, slate and tin.
A variety of tables, benches, shelving units, trunks and plant stands also are available. Employees even make dog-feeding stations. Many of these items can be customized with laser engraving.
Lakestate Industries even offers cedar or birch urns suitable for holding ashes of a loved one or pet. These items also can be customized with laser engraving, to reflect a favorite sports team or hobby.
Lakestate displays products at the TV 6 craft fair and other events. Some items are on display at the Marquette site, and Bischoff welcomes visitors to tour the facility.
Sales of products and services account for two-thirds of the agency’s annual funding. The four-acre site and building the organization purchased in Chocolay Township has a mortgage of $350,000.00. The organization has been trying to repurpose the building, but right now, there are open studs where walls should be, and some of the space is unused, waiting for the day equipment, a laser engraver and work crews can build crates and furniture items in Marquette County. Plans to open a gift shop and coffee shop are in the works, but to do so, additional funds are needed.
Bischoff has been in her position for three months. She joined the organization for a very personal reason. Her sister-in-law, Becky Bischoff, an electrical engineer for UTS (now Sprint), was severely injured in a car accident at the age of thirty-nine. She was in a coma for three months and suffered severe brain injury. A portion of her brain had to be removed. In addition to memory loss, she was unable to walk or speak. Extensive rehabilitation allowed her to have basic abilities, but she never regained the physical and cognitive skills she possessed before the accident.
In an instant, her life was changed in a way no one ever expects. Her life savings were spent on medical bills, nursing home care, medication and rehabilitation. She no longer could live the independent life she possessed prior to the accident. Her only remaining goal in life was to maintain some semblance of normalcy, and her employers worked to give that back to their loyal employee. Bischoff’s sister-in-law was not able to work as an engineer again, but the company allowed her to work doing clerical, maintenance and cleaning duties. She valued her job and the role she could play with the company until she died at the age of forty-five due to complications sustained in the accident.
Bischoff knows from personal experience how important it is to have employment.  That is why she accepted a position with Lakestate, working to raise funds for the organization and develop new employment opportunities for the adults it serves. Bischoff can be reached at 273-2131.
Bischoff and the other staff members of Lakestate Industries take a personal interest in growing the organization and the number of clients it can serve.
The families whose members have found meaningful employment explain the value of the organization best. “We never expected this wonderful success for Emily. It was never on our radar or in our dreams. We are so thankful that Lakestate Industries is now a part of the Marquette community and our lives,” said Barbara.

— Pam Christensen

 Lakestate Industries Wish List:

• Garbage bags
• Household cleaning supplies
• Windows and doors
• Lumber and paint
• Pallet jack
• Lawn mowers
• Weed trimmers
• Laser engraver
• Ice melt
• Industrial scale
• Industrial paper shredders
• Office furniture
• New or gently-used vehicles
• Gas cards
• Plumbing materials and installation
• HVAC equipment and installation
• Cardboard toilet paper rolls
• Candle wax—jars are okay
• Snow plowing and removal services
• Employment opportunities for Lakestate workers
• Contract paper shredding and envelope stuffing
• Financial support for marketing and support staff

To arrange delivery of donations, contact Shelby Bischoff at 273-2131.

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