Daily Star photos/KATIE ROHMAN Matthew Fowlkes, of Dowagiac, stacks cardboard to be crushed and bundled at Gateway Services in Berrien Springs. Fowlkes is employed there as part of the Michigan Prisoner ReEntry Initiative.

Gateway breaks down barriers

Published 3:39pm Saturday, April 14, 2012

BERRIEN SPRINGS — When Gateway Services started 40 years ago, it offered people with disabilities employment in its “sheltered workshops” — large facilities where everyone worked on site doing repetitive tasks. It also had several more locations in the area.

Today, Gateway has changed its philosophy about training and employing people with disabilities, or “program participants.” Gateway now has 50 employees, four Michigan Prisoner ReEntry Initiative workers and 150 program participants from Berrien, Cass and VanBuren counties who work at its recycling facility, production area/offices and out in the workforce.

Seventy percent of Gateway’s revenue comes from the Medicaid program through Benton Harbor’s Riverwood Center, a nonprofit behavioral health care agency. It also receives grants and United Way funding.

“We’ve gone from a sheltered workshop mindset to getting out in the workplace,” executive director Emil Gallay said. “It’s a struggle because of the stigma these individuals carry.”

Paid employment

Area businesses utilize Gateway to help them complete jobs either at their facilities or theirs.

For example, JA Foods in Buchanan was seeking temporary employees, and used Gateway to hire four people. Gateway monitored their training to ensure they were fulfilling their duties to JA’s specifications.

Season’s Harvest in Harbert uses participants to assemble gift boxes of food in a process called “kitting,” which means assembling separate pieces into one unit, at the Gateway facility.

The advantage for employers to use Gateway Services is that they pay by the piece, not by the hour. Gateway hires staff for the employers and offers on-site job coaches.

Recycling service

Gateway is widely recognized for its recycling service.

It has two trucks that travel to businesses and schools as far as Kalamazoo and Paw Paw to pick up paper, plastic and cardboard.

“We are trying to pick up (recycling) more remotely,” Gallay said.

It also collects computer equipment for the Bridges to Digital Excellent recycling program.

Its secure document destruction recycling is a highly-regulated, complex process in which Gateway collects documents from businesses and, in a secured area, disassembles folders, packets and piles and shreds them for recycling.

Gateway is seeking more businesses that would like to use its services in the summer, when schools close and paper recycling tapers off.

Gateway even sells newspaper mulch — shredded and bagged newspaper that can be spread in flower and vegetable gardens to provide weed control and conserve soil moisture — for $2 for a 20-pound bag.

Job training

One of Gateway’s goals is to help people obtain skills so they can be employable. It uses agencies like Michigan Rehabilitation Services, which helps residents with disabilities achieve employment and self-sufficiency; Michigan Works, a workforce development; and the Michigan Prisoner ReEntry Initiative to help people with disabilities and barriers.

It recently began offering a janitorial certification, which is open to the general public. It includes training in restroom cleaning, carpet care, safety equipment procedure and other essential skills janitors need.

One participant created Gateway’s first “microenterprise” for his artwork, which included a business plan and art shows.

The Step Up program offers “soft” skills like interviewing, resume writing and dressing for a job.

Tami Jackson, director of services, said employers look for a good attitude and attendance in employees.

“Our participants have that,” she said.

Gateway Services is located at 201 Sylvester Ave., Berrien Springs. It can be reached at (269) 271-2897 or visit www.gatewayvro.com.

Gateway’s impact 2010-11

• Served 234 customers for recycling and document destruction, processing 586 tons of paper and making 4,288 collection stops

• Conserved 2.4 million kilowatts of electricity — enough to power 586 North American homes for six months)

• Conserved 49,240 gallons of oil

• Conserved 4.1 million gallons of water

• Eliminated 1,759 cubic yards of landfill and pollutants

• Saved 9,965 trees

‘Bed Shred’ available

“Bed Shred” shredded newspaper is available for garden mulch at $2 per 20-pound bag. Each bag covers about 32 square feet. Call Gateway at (269) 271-2897 ext. 10 to place an order.

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