Growing Above Challenges

Brand Story – Comcast Business supports Corvallis-based Work Unlimited to help adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities grow in community.

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Reliable internet has long been important but it became critical to consumers and businesses when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. For Work Unlimited — a Corvallis nonprofit serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities — Comcast Business internet was a lifeline, keeping clients and staff connected during the prolonged period when in-person visitation was prohibited.

“We have several homes in different cities, and entry was restricted to essential visitors only,” says Christina M. Reinikka, Work Unlimited CEO. “The people we serve were without their typical activities and opportunities for socialization in the community, so we did online Bingo every week. Thanks to Comcast Business, we were all able to connect, socialize, and check in with the people and the staff, which turned into a much-anticipated event throughout the dreary and isolating months of pandemic restrictions.” 

Work Unlimited serves around 100 clients in Benton, Polk, and Marion counties. In addition to 24-hour and supported living homes, the company also provides day support activities, Job coaching, and integrated, competitive, community employment , through its employment division.

The organization’s founder, H.D (Bud) Fredericks, was a career Marine Corps officer and Vietnam War veteran whose personal experiences led to a second career in special education. He and his wife, Dot, had five children, the fifth of whom was born in the late 1960s with Down’s Syndrome, and the couple found a dearth of services available to support their son’s special needs. After earning a Ph.D. in special education from the University of Oregon, Fredericks became a professor, author, and advocate. He founded Work Unlimited in 1985.

“Dr. Fredericks was determined that his son was going to be able to participate in the world,” says Reinikka. “The great thing about our company is that all the things that are being mandated and legislated now were in our original philosophy of supports. Everybody has the same civil rights. My civil rights are no different than anybody in our group home. That ethos was here from the very beginning.”

Reinikka started her career at Work Unlimited in 1989, working as a Direct Support Professional in a home for the first wave of people released from Oregon’s Fairview Training Center. This and a few other small homes were model projects established by Fredericks, the University of Oregon, and Western Oregon University’s Teaching Research Division, designed with the belief that even the most behaviorally challenged people can flourish when given the right support and opportunities.

“The transition between incarceration in the institution and community living posed huge challenges. People who were denied their basic needs and civil rights learned that only aggressive, disruptive, and often self-injurious behavior gave them a fighting chance of survival in the overcrowded and chaotic institution,” says Reinikka. “Dr. Fredericks firmly believed that those undesired behaviors would become ineffective and inefficient over time if people were integrated into their communities and given opportunities to live, work, play, and build relationships, coupled with behavioral support and life skills training to maximize each person’s capacity for independence.”

Reinikka notes that changing a person’s environment has the biggest impact on altering behavior, though that can take months or years. Work Unlimited’s Direct Support Professionals are trained to pay close attention to clients and gather data during positive or negative interactions to determine commonalities and make adjustments that might help. And though supporting youth and adults with behavioral challenges isn’t the job for everyone, many of the company’s long-tenured staff have a passion for helping and an appetite for challenge.

“This job not only strengthens character and empathy but also builds patience, creativity, courage, collaboration, and critical thinking skills, assets that can be translated into any career or working environment,” says Reinikka. 

Or, like Reinikka, they might make a career out of watching people live, grow, flourish, and triumph at Work Unlimited. 

“People who were formerly considered ‘extremely dangerous’ live in their own homes, and have community jobs. Some ride the bus independently. Everyone takes part in events and activities the community has to offer,” says Reinikka. “Although it’s not work for the faint of heart, it’s been a stunning success, and I am very proud to be a part of that.”

Brand stories are paid content articles that allow Oregon Business advertisers to share news about their organizations and engage with readers on business and public policy issues.  The stories are produced in house by the Oregon Business marketing department. For more information, contact associate publisher Courtney Kutzman.