Spotlight on … Challenge Workforce Solutions

By Rob Montana
Tompkins Weekly

Non-profit organizations are plentiful throughout Tompkins County, and make a big impact in our communities. Despite their contributions, area non-profits can sometimes go unnoticed or unknown. In an effort to shine a spotlight on those who are making a difference in our county, Tompkins Weekly will be showcasing these organizations on a regular basis.
This week we are highlighting Challenge Workforce Solutions, and asked Kim Pugliese, director of development for the non-profit, some questions about the organization.

Photo by Michael Collins / Challenge Workforce Solutions
Challenge staff members and program participants share their thanks with the community for support the organization has received throughout 2016.

Tompkins Weekly: What is your mission?
Challenge Workforce Solutions: Challenge is a non-profit organization that is committed to creating pathways to employment for people with disabilities or barriers.

TW: How do you fulfill that mission?
CWS: Challenge offers a variety of employment services for a variety of job seekers. We provide job readiness training, resume writing, job placement and job coaching services for people with economic, mental health, substance abuse, criminal history and developmental barriers. The staff at Challenge works hard to find the right fit for participants in our programs; from our Community-Based Prevocational Services, which provide extensive preparation for individuals interested in finding employment, to our Pro Skills classes, which help individuals make a positive presentation at interviews. We also run a Summer Youth Employment Program, which offers area youth the opportunity to learn new skills and develop new interests while getting paid. This experience helps reinforce a work ethic for youth and develop the future workforce for our community. Challenge participants offer our community a loyal and reliable workforce. Each year, Challenge helps our program participants obtain meaningful employment at nearly 200 businesses in our community. We believe that everyone deserves a chance to grow and show their skills, regardless of disability or other barrier to employment.

TW: What are the biggest challenges your organization faces?
CWS: Challenge faces similar struggles as other nonprofits. The elimination of New York state funding for work centers and uncertain funding for employment services for those with the most severe disabilities are just some of our barriers. The introduction of managed care and payment reform brings the threat of competition, pressure on revenues and costly investments in systems such as Electronic Health Records. Challenge is continuing to grow and evolve our Social Enterprise model. As the state investment shrinks over time, the increase of these enterprises will help decrease the reliance on state funding while increasing the delivery of our mission in the community. Challenge must continue to create a strong financial foundation, while also ensuring that we don’t lose sight of the vision of the organization to support a wide range of individuals in our community.

TW: What is something people do not know about your organization?
CWS: Often times, the public is not familiar with the scope of the work that Challenge does every day. While most are familiar with our programs that assist individuals with developmental disabilities, many are unaware of our programs to support people with a variety of employment barriers. People are often surprised to learn that Challenge runs a combined five dish rooms at Ithaca College and Cornell, as well as at Wegmans. It also comes as a surprise to people when they learn of the dozens of employers throughout the community that Challenge works with to provide qualified trained staff, such as the new Marriott Hotel in downtown Ithaca, the Maguire car dealerships, CBORD and Therm, among others.

TW: How can people best support your mission?
CWS: Challenge relies on the support of the community, not just through donations, but through an understanding of our programs and the work we do to support individuals as they achieve their success. Supporting Challenge can happen through speaking with our participants as they work in the community, visiting our offices and contract production operations in the South Hill Business Campus, or even by following Challenge on Facebook and reading the success stories of our participants, and how they’ve overcome different barriers to provide for themselves and their families. Monetary donations are accepted in order to support our programs and to help us continue to grow.