“It’s a beautiful thing.”
A partnership between UMass Medical School, two central Massachusetts nonprofits and a Cambridge startup is working to provide better jobs for people with disabilities. And they’re helping the environment, too.
UMass Medical School’s Work Without Limits program connected an environmentally focused company called Blu2Green with people with disabilities from the Seven Hills Foundation in Worcester to create tote bags from recycled blue wrap. Blue wrap is a material made from a petroleum-based plastic that is used in health care to cover sterilized surgical instruments. The material, when discarded, does not degrade and can last for hundreds of years in the environment. Blu2Green works to recycle the material into useful products.
Work Without Limits and Blu2Green teamed up with Riverside Community Care’s Central Mass Employment Collaborative and the Seven Hills Foundation to hire individuals with disabilities who could do the work needed to produce the bags, which were distributed at the first annual Work Without Limits conference in October.
“We really care about this work and are happy to help people and the environment,” said Blu2Green chief executive officer Christopher Bodkin. “By connecting with Seven Hills, our vision came together. They have been so supportive. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Statistics show that people with disabilities face much higher rates of unemployment than those without disabilities. Only 33 percent of working age people with disabilities are employed versus 76 percent of people without disabilities, according to the American Community Survey.
“Advancing employment opportunities for people with disabilities is our core mission,” said Kathy Petkauskos, director of the Work Without Limits program, a statewide network of employers and partners. “This seemed like a great project both in terms of fulfilling our mission, and also helping prepare for our conference.”
A team of individuals already participating in programs at Seven Hills were recruited for the project and spent several weeks producing the bags. Individual skills were matched up with available jobs, which included pattern tracing and cutting, as well as sewing.
The end result was 300 beautifully crafted tote bags, and for the participants hired for the work a sense of accomplishment and a job well done.
“I like it. It’s something new,” said 29-year-old Worcester resident Jennifer Poulin, who preferred her job sewing the conference bags over previous positions. “I like the people we’re doing this for.”