Work Inc.’s new digs: a dream realized

By 
Sue Asci, Special to the Reporter
Nov. 5, 2009

When Work Inc. opened its doors this week at its new home at 25 Beach Street in Dorchester it was the culmination of eight years of fundraising, planning, and nine months of rehab work.

It also marks a turning point for the 44-year-old nonprofit organization, which provides job training and placement, counseling and other services for about 800 people with disabilities in the state.

Not only will clients be better served with the state-of-the-art facility, but the hope is that the expanded space will allow the organization to help more people in the future.

“It’s a phenomenal dream realized of all of our resources and energy coming together,” said Work Inc. president James Cassetta.

The new facility, which will house the organization’s vocational training, day-habilitation programs, and administrative offices, more than doubles the 40,000-square foot space that Work Inc. previously occupied in North Quincy.

About 300 clients will utilize the facility in Dorchester for various programs and services.

Work Inc. purchased its new home from Pollack Manufacturing 3-1/2 years ago when the company moved to a new building in Dedham, making the purchase with $5 million that it raised on its own, combined with $10 million in public bonds, Cassetta said.

The nonprofit totally rehabbed the site with the Boston Building Trades making major contributions in time and labor to the project, Cassetta said. “They provided a half million dollars worth of labor and time in union donations to get the building done,” he said.

The new building is universally accessible and has four modern conference rooms, several training centers, a café, work areas, and a day habilitation area with multiple activity spaces. Many of the rooms are equipped with televisions, which are used as message centers.

Now that the building is complete, Work Inc. can go about its mission of helping connect people with disabilities to work so that they can live fulfilling and productive lives.

Even in a down economy, Cassetta is always optimistic. “I think for anybody who wants to work, there is a job for them somewhere out there. People should not let a disability get in the way,” he said.

The biggest challenges for the organization are job placements and operational funding. Work Inc. provides vocational training to people in the areas of facility management and janitorial services. “We also train people how to present themselves for job interviews, how to apply for a job and how to use the internet,” Cassetta said.

Many of the people trained by Work Inc. have jobs providing custodial services to federal buildings in the Boston area including the Moakley Courthouse, John F. Kennedy buildings in downtown, and the John F. Kennedy Library in Dorchester. In addition, Work Inc.-trained individuals are working for the Environmental Protection Agency providing custodial services as well as working in the mailroom, as couriers and in fleet management.

At the John F. Kennedy Library, the workers provide complete facility management including landscaping.

Initially, Work Inc. finds placements for individuals at the federal sites. It is hoped that those individuals will gain experience and move on to more competitive positions at other companies and create openings for others. Currently, there are about 150 people working in the Boston area and 300 people on a waiting list for jobs, said Cassetta.

About four years ago, Work Inc. invested and now owns a for-profit subsidiary called Facilities Management and Maintenance Inc., which is based in East Boston. The company competes for contracts to provide custodial and cleaning services to office sites.

“Any profit we make goes back into Work Inc. and is reinvested and serves people with disabilities,” Cassetta said.

Other clients are working at the Work Inc. site itself in “Employment of Choice” Centers. “There are six light manufacturing centers within this complex. We pay the workers a paycheck every two weeks. This is real work for real clients. If the companies did not contract with Work Inc., they would have to find others to do the work,” he said.

The positions may include packing and mailing, creating displays, and fulfillment for companies like Evergreen Solar of Ayer, Mass., Independent Nail of Taunton, Crate and Barrel, Bountiful Pantry, Christmas Tree Shops, and Lindt Chocolate.

Also on site is a cafeteria called The Freeport Street Café. The operation is managed by Community Work Services of Boston which specializes in food services and training. People with disabilities work at the cafeteria.

For those who are not able to work, Work Inc. provides a day habilitation program, which is funded by Medicaid. The program serves 70 people daily with a range of programs including activities of daily living and social support.

All of the people served by Work Inc. have developmental, physical, or intellectual disabilities, or some combination, Cassetta said. “We are seeing an increase in clients who were Iraq war veterans who are coming back with traumatic brain injuries,” he said. “There are no disabilities that we can’t serve. For every type of disability, we can show you that we have someone working.”

There are about 25 million people with disabilities in the U.S. and about close to 80 percent of them are unemployed, Cassetta said.

Yet most want to work. The biggest challenge is finding placements, he said. “If I had one wish, I wish that individuals with disabilities would be considered for any job available at any company.”

The program’s $25 million annual budget is derived from a mix of sources, including federal, state, and private funds.

Last year, Work Inc. lost $1 million when the state Department of Mental Health made budget cuts. As a result, 31 staff people lost their jobs.

Another potential source of income may come from the new building itself. Work Inc. occupies 85,000 square feet of the 134,000-square foot building. In addition, the organization has two floors which each have 6,500 square feet of space as well as a 35,000 square feet of light manufacturing space for lease. The funds would be used to support the programs.

Cassetta is looking forward to an economic turnaround and then Work Inc. will be able to expand its services to assist an additional 100 clients in the next couple of years. That will also mean job creation to hire more staff to serve them, he said.

Work Inc. also has offices in Leominster, Fitchburg, New Bedford, and Boston.

If there is any individual in Dorchester who has difficulty getting or maintaining employment because of a disability, they can contact Cassetta at Work Inc. at 617-691-1502.