By Katie Dahlstrom Herald Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON — Clinton’s Skyline Center did what most organizations would do after reaching their 50th anniversary — they celebrated.
But one thing set their celebration apart from most: a visit from Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds.
The governor and lieutenant governor visited Skyline Center’s warehouse Friday to learn more about what the organization does to employ and assist individuals with disabilities.
Skyline’s Operations Manager Glenn Schilling gave the state leaders a tour of the warehouse, where their consumers produce items such as cotton-cleaning products and store displays for Nestle Purina products.
“It’s really driven on the consumers as far as what they want to do. Do they want to come here and work? Do they want to work in the community? Do they want to work here and get the skills and then work in the community? That is basically what we provide,” Schilling said.
Branstad applauded Skyline leaders for the efforts to employ Clinton and area residents at a piece-rate in their warehouse, help them secure jobs and live in the community and provide home health care.
“One of the challenges we have is having enough people for the jobs that are being created. And a lot of people with disabilities are unemployed and underemployed and this is a company that has done a good job not only providing employment, but also providing services,” Branstad said.
Figures from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy show that across the country, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is nearly twice as high as it is for those without disabilities at 13.1 percent.
“We need to make sure that employers know that there are a lot of people with disabilities that have the ability and have the commitment to be good employees,” Branstad said. “People tend to be happier and healthier and they’re able to support themselves and be more independent so it’s a win-win all the way around.”
Reynolds said that similar to the goal to make Iowa the healthiest state, they also would like to employ the most with disabilities.
Skyline started as a daycare center in 1963 and evolved over time as their clients aged in order to meet their needs.
“It all started because parents with children with disabilities didn’t have any place to turn in the community. A lot of them had to be institutionalized,” Executive Director Jack Robinson said. “They wanted to keep those kids in the community so we started Skyline Center.”
Since its inception, Skyline officials have added new facilities, helped start Clinton County’s recycling program and done a number of other things to enhance their consumers’ lives.
Around 87 people work at the warehouse, 72 are in community living program and 45 receive home healthcare. The organization also boasts 125 staff members.
As much as the past 50 years have been marked with positives for the non-profit organization, it has not been without some challenges.
Specifically, in the past two years, Skyline Center had to adjust to the mental health and disability redesign.
“There are some frustrations with change and some people feel threatened by change, but we really feel that the redesign is going to bring better services and less wasteful expenses,” Branstad said.
The Skyline Center lost the $27 per consumer, per diem funds they received from Clinton County. While the organization receives some state funding instead, Robinson said it’s unclear what will happen to those funds in the next two years.
“That’s been hard for us,” Robinson said. “We had to apply for Medicaid services for as many people as would qualify and we don’t know where that’s going to go.”
Despite the challenges the mental health and disability redesign presented, Skyline leaders are optimistic about the future of their organization and their consumers.
“We’ve grown a lot. We really have. If the next 25 years are anything like the last 50, wow,” Schilling said.