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ALTON, Ill. – Putting the disabled to work is the mission of a 60-year old national organization. Alton, Illinois is where Challenge Unlimited started and continues to flourish. A new staffing office opens this month in St. Louis County.

Melissa Sandoval found Challenge Unlimited on the internet. She contacted them and she was soon on her way to an interview at Christian Hospital in Florissant. Melissa is grateful for Challenge Unlimited because she needed to work.

“I wanted a future for my family and my kids,” said Sandoval, with the help of interpreter Jim Self of Deaf Interlink.

Melissa spent close to 10 years looking for steady work. She’d get close, but it always ended the same way.

“They’d say they would contact me the next day. And they didn’t contact me. They said they didn’t understand how they would communicate because I am deaf,” Sandoval said.

Christian Hospital President and CEO Rick Stevens said workers like Melissa are valuable assets.

“These are individuals who can contribute to the workforce and can contribute to Christian Hospital as well. The adjustments we made were minor. But in the end, it’s become a great relationship,” Stevens said.

Challenge Unlimited wants to grow employment opportunities for people with disabilities. That includes opening a staffing office in Maryland Heights and building partnerships with St. Louis area employers.

“Those individuals show up on time, they’re loyal to the job, loyal to their employers, and that’s what all employers are looking for,” said Charlotte Hammond, Challenge Unlimited President and CEO.

The agency is now able to place clients in the U.S. Department of Labor Apprenticeship Program. Participants receive hands-on professional development and training.

“They can take that certificate once they complete it and take it anywhere in the world. It would indicate these individuals are trained and ready to work,” Hammond said.

At present, Challenge Unlimited’s focus is in the custodial, housekeeping, food service, warehouse, and clerical areas. But Hammond said she sees an untapped pool of potential workers.

“We found that individuals who are autistic, have a great talent to work in the IT field. And so that’s an area we’d like to expand into,” she said.

Challenge Unlimited is finalizing plans for a ribbon cutting and open house at the new Maryland Heights location. It is Wednesday, August 22, from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. The organization has offices in Illinois, Wisconsin, South Carolina, and Ohio.