Our country’s founders believed all people are created equal and entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But that pursuit often is difficult for individuals with disabilities, for whom the unemployment rate is 15 percent (compared to 7 percent for the general population). And a shocking 60 to 80 percent of people with autism and other developmental disabilities can’t find work.

Easter Seals Midwest, formerly known as Life Skills | TouchPoint, teaches people with developmental disabilities the skills they need to get a job, make friends and function as independently as possible. “No matter how severe their limitations, every human being can make a meaningful contribution to their community,” says CEO Wendy Sullivan. “All they need is the opportunity. Our affiliation with Easter Seals, the leading nonprofit provider of services for individuals with disabilities, helps us give more people a chance.”

The agency, which serves more than 3,600 Missourians, operates three divisions.Autism Services offers training, therapies and support services; Community Living teaches independent living skills; and Employment Services helps individuals with developmental disabilities develop job skills and find and maintain meaningful employment. “Employment Services places anywhere from 50 to 60 clients per year in substantial jobs with competitive wages at more than 120 local businesses,” Sullivan says. “We also provide ongoing support for hundreds of clients to make sure they succeed. It’s a win-win situation: every employer we’ve surveyed gladly would recommend our clients to other businesses.”

Meadowbrook Country Club, for example, hired 31-year-old Frederick Holbrook to work in the kitchen more than a year ago. “He’s one of several Easter Seals Midwest clients we’ve employed, and they all do very well,” says general manager Jim Bahlinger. “Frederick is dedicated and loyal, and he has a great work ethic. Everyone likes him.” When a new chef changed the layout of the kitchen, Easter Seals staff helped Frederick make the transition, he adds.

The cost of training and placing workers is not fully covered by government funding, Sullivan notes. A major fundraiser, the two-day Par-Tee Dinner Auction and Tee-It-Up Golf Tournament, takes place July 27 and 28 at Meadowbrook. “The event raises more than $350,000 a year toward helping people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to our services,” Sullivan says. “We value our partnership with Meadowbrook—they’ve hosted our dinner and tournament the last 29 years. It’s always a first-class production. We couldn’t do it without their support.” Event co-chairs are Matthew Goldenberg, Bill Bartelsmeyer and Erin Woerther. Mungenast Lexus of St. Louis serves as Hole-in-One Sponsor. Festivities include a golf clinic for Easter Seals Midwest clients, taught by Meadowbrook pros.

“Our clients don’t want or need favors or special treatment,” Sullivan says. “They just want to work side-by-side with others in our community. Our annual dinner auction and golf tournament helps people with developmental disabilities achieve the dignity and self-sufficiency that come from having a job they love—and a paycheck, too.”

By Tony Di Martino
Photo: Colin Miller of Strauss Peyton
Pictured: Meadowbrook Country Club chef Ben Grupe and Easter Seals Midwest client Frederick Holbrook

[The 29th annual Par-Tee Dinner Auction and Tee-It-Up Golf Tournament, benefiting Easter Seals Midwest, take place July 27 and 28 at Meadowbrook Country Club. Dinner tickets only are $125; tournament tickets are $450. Sponsorships start at $500. For more information or to register for the event, call 314.394.7070 or visit eastersealsmidwest.org.]