Getting back to work

Steve Herrington, a Kitsap Applied Technologies client, sorts plastic caps at the KAT headquarters on Wheaton Way. Herrington has been doing contract work through KAT since becoming injured and put out of work. - Paul Balcerak/staff photo
Steve Herrington, a Kitsap Applied Technologies client, sorts plastic caps at the KAT headquarters on Wheaton Way. Herrington has been doing contract work through KAT since becoming injured and put out of work.
— image credit: Paul Balcerak/staff photo

Local non-profit seeks to help the disabled find jobs.

The staffers at Kitsap Applied Technologies (KAT) are all gunning for better jobs — their boss knows that and he’s fine with it. As a matter of fact, he’d be ecstatic if they could all get new jobs.

“We want to get (our employees) a job that they’re good at, but also a job that they want, that’s a good fit both ways,” KAT Executive Director Jim Babson said. “We’re looking for the win-win.”

It may seem odd that Babson is actively trying to get his employees hired for other jobs in the area, but Babson isn’t really a boss and his employees aren’t really employees; they’re more like clients.

KAT is a private non-profit organization that’s been serving people with developmental disabilities since 1984. The goal: get them ready to head out into the workforce and take on jobs in their communities.

“Essentially, we’re exploring their potential for community opportunities,” Babson said.

Doing that isn’t always easy.

Many of Babson’s clients at KAT have been there since the early days of the program. It’s not always easy for them to get jobs because of their disabilities and because of the fact that KAT, despite its age, remains relatively obscure in the community.

“We really provide services to people who have severe developmental disabilities,” Babson said. “We’re working with these people right now to train them and give them skills (for the workplace).”

Progress may be slow for the Wheaton Way non-profit, but that’s not stopping any of its clients from getting work experience.

The small warehouse-like setup is actually a sort of business in and of itself. Clients show up for abbreviated work days that last anywhere from three to six hours and encompass a variety of tasks.

Those in KAT’s supported employment program are out in the community already, heading out to job sites that allow them to work in car washes, ground maintenance services, linen services and janitorial services.

Those in the specialized industries program work out of KAT’s headquarters and do contract work with various Northwest businesses.

“Boeing is a big supporter of ours,” Babson said.

Most of the warehouse work is based on sorting tasks. For example, Boeing sends out plastic caps to cover metal pipes and bars that need to be sorted by size for future use. Clients at KAT take the caps and sort them into corresponding boxes.

It’s a simple job that’s good for some of KAT’s less experienced clients who need to work their way up to more difficult tasks.

“We challenge people at different levels,” Babson said.

Steve Herrington, for example, isn’t developmentally disabled at all, but sustained multiple injuries that inhibited his ability to work. KAT is now trying to help get him back on his feet.

“They’ve got a good support group here and they’re directive as to what my goals are,” Herrington said.

That’s the idea of all the workers at KAT — teach them skills and get them ready for jobs that they can do without help.

KAT’s clients don’t have any qualms about dreaming big, either.

“Know anyone who wants to have their hydroplane washed or waxed?” Donna Frender asks from her work station where she sorts drill bits.

“Donna, being blind, does all her sorting by feel,” Babson said. “It’s pretty amazing.”

She’s also helped out KAT in several public speaking engagements and although her dream of cleaning hydros has yet to be realized, she’s not backing down.

“There’s no such word as ‘can’t,’” Frender said. “When someone says they can’t, it just means they don’t want to.”

One of her coworkers, Kristal Jones, is determined to become an emergency worker.

“I’d like to get a job as an EMT and I’d like to go out on an ambulance ride,” Jones said. “I would really love that.”

Of course, getting businesses involved in KAT’s goals can sometimes be tricky. Boeing has been involved since about 1986 and other big businesses like Comcast have pitched in as well, but KAT still struggles at times to find work for its clients.

“We’re not very well known here in Kitsap County, even though we’ve been here 22 years,” Babson said.

Most of the local help comes from United Way, which provides much of the funding for KAT. Other local organizations, like the American Red Cross, also pitch in with what they can.

“We rely heavily on community support,” Babson said. “It’s gonna take an effort from everybody to make this thing successful.”

Kitsap Applied Technologies

4195 Wheaton Way, Bremerton

(360) 377-5454

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