KEARNEY — Employing adults with disabilities, The Fulfillment House in Kearney aims to fulfill orders for shipping clients across the nation while also fulfilling dreams of independence of its workforce.
Started this summer, The Fulfillment House, located in the former Rock & Run Brewery and Tap Room location at 115 W. Washington St., is an organization that pairs job coaches with production associates with developmental, physical or other disabilities to provide the associates with meaningful employment that helps them earn their own incomes, gain independence and socially interact with others.
The idea for the facility began earlier this year, when Fulfillment House Director Marci Riley retired as a teacher from the Kearney School District and was approached by Kim and Steve Thorne and their business partners Len and Lori Page, who own Paradigm Direct, a Kearney business that provides financial wellness, legal, real estate, credit card processing, order processing and shipping services.
“They contacted me because Jack (Thorne, Kim and Steve’s son who has special needs) is a senior and graduating and there really isn’t a lot of job opportunities out there,” she said. “Since their business does order fulfillment and shipping, and since I retired in May, they contacted me and asked me if I would be interested. Since I had a lot of these kids as my students, I thought it was good.”
After Riley signed on, the director said Tammy Johnson, who worked as Riley’s classroom paraprofessional for more than a decade, signed on as a job coach. The two began working for The Fulfillment House in July, with associates starting in September.
Associates work from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day and fill orders for media products such as books and DVDs. Orders come in via email, which are then color-coded by job coaches based on what is to be included in the order. Then, the order is passed along to associates to make packaging materials, place orders in the boxes and ready them for shipping.
“They each have a stamp with their name and face on it and stamp each package so people know who packed their shipment,” Riley said.
“They get paid every Friday,” Riley said, adding The Fulfillment House lives up to its motto, “fulfilling orders, fulfilling dreams.”
“They are the ones that come in and do all of the packaging. They put all of that together, and some of them do a better job with it than (job coaches) do,” she said.
Johnson said the facility has an open-door policy so people in the community can and do stop by to see what’s taken place, providing further interaction for associates with others in the community.
“We have people all day come on by, say hi and check in on what we’re doing,” she said.
Associate Brent Threlkeld said he likes this job more than his previous job as a grocery store bagger.
“I left there to come here. I love making new boxes,” he said.
Associate Blaire Kelly, who graduated from Kearney High School and Transforming Lives of Students with Disabilities program at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, said the job helps her be independent. Kelly lives on her own in an apartment in Kearney.
“I love it. I get to make new friends,” she said. “I missed my Special Olympic friends and friends from being a cheerleader.”
Charlene Slankard said she likes the skills she’s learning as an associate.
“My favorite part is doing the boxes and the labels,” she said.
For associate Katelyn Brammeier, earning a living is a point of pride.
“I like the money,” she said, adding it feels good earning her own income.
Kearney School District Superintendent Bill Nicely said Kearney is lucky to have a facility like The Fulfillment House.
“We want every child to graduate and do something meaningful in their life regardless of their ability. The Fulfillment House absolutely fulfills that niche,” he said. “We’re going to have conversations with them about partnering, perhaps, with some of our kiddos while they’re still in school. ... I’d love to see The Fulfillment House grow.”