Writing Samples

Last original JobOne employee retires after 44 years

I wrote this story/news release about a famously long-serving JobOne employee.

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A JobOne employee (left) wishes his former co-worker Jimmy Campbell a happy retirement.

These days, it’s uncommon for a worker to stay with the same employer for their entire career. But Wellington, Mo., resident James “Jimmy” Campbell did just that. He recently retired after nearly 44 years of service to JobOne and its predecessor organizations, IBS Industries and Jackson County Sheltered Workshop. Campbell was the last remaining employee from when the nonprofit opened its doors as a sheltered workshop for people with disabilities in September of 1969.

Campbell, age 64, has Down syndrome. Growing older has slowed his pace a bit, but he is as vibrant a character as ever. Campbell and his family members returned to JobOne in Independence, Mo., on May 3 for a retirement reception held in his honor.

Margaret Cook, Campbell’s aunt, initially brought him to JobOne in 1969 because she was determined to find him something useful to do. For more than four decades, he traveled from Wellington to Independence and back each weekday on a county-funded bus. Campbell worked steadily on subcontracting jobs at JobOne, assembling a variety of kits for business customers. He is fondly remembered for his ability to make people laugh, sneaking up on staff members, and forgetting where he’d stashed something.

A music lover and collector of records, Campbell grew up pretending to conduct the orchestra on “The Lawrence Welk Show.” “If I was in my office, I knew it was time to start the day because he came in playing his harmonica off the bus,” said JobOne Vice President of Human Resources Kelly Logan.

Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer, who represents Jackson, Johnson and Lafayette counties, has known Jimmy Campbell his entire life. At Campbell’s reception, he presented a resolution from the Missouri House of Representatives honoring his decades of dedicated service. People with disabilities, like Campbell, are often reliable and dependable workers, with some of the highest retention rates of any employee group.

“You would know when payday was because…anybody that was driving down the street, he would show them his paycheck,” remembered Kolkmeyer. “He was just so proud of that paycheck.”

Organizations like JobOne provide adults who have intellectual and developmental disabilities with opportunities to be productive, learn useful skills, engage with peers in a work setting, and earn money. But the impacts can extend even farther. Because Jimmy Campbell had somewhere to go each day, his mother was able to make a living cutting hair in Wellington.

Corky Campbell says she knows her son misses going to work. “He gets ready quite often in the morning to come to the workshop.”

Fifty years ago, Missourian Frank Ackerman became concerned about what the future held for his son with a disability after he finished school. Ackerman began a campaign to establish a vocational program in Missouri. This campaign resulted in the passage of Senate Bill 52 in 1965, which authorized nonprofits to start sheltered workshops for people like his son and Jimmy Campbell.

“There is a place for everyone to contribute to society in the world we live in,” said JobOne Board Chair Mark Simcosky. “Jimmy and the other nearly 300 employees that JobOne supports are evidence of that. And we are trying to do everything we can to continue to create opportunities all up and down the spectrum for people to have a fruitful life, enjoyable life, and contribute much the way Jimmy has.”

JobOne employee in wheelchair teaches fitness classes to people with disabilities

I had a great time writing this profile about a JobOne employee and her unlikely hobby.

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Michele Steuer teaching Turbo Kick class from wheelchair

JobOne employee Michele Steuer’s hobby is teaching Turbo Kick classes to people with disabilities, or anyone who wants to try the moves from a seated position.

Many of us have been hooked by persuasive infomercials that promise to change our lives, especially early in a new year when we’ve resolved to get more exercise or eat healthier. That’s what happened in January of 2008 to Michele Steuer, a receptionist and 25-year JobOne employee.

Michele and her parents came across a TV infomercial for Turbo Jam, a high-energy exercise video system developed by fitness expert Chalene Johnson. The workout combines shadow boxing, kickboxing, sports drills and simple dance moves, and Johnson’s zeal is infectious. “I fell in love with it the minute I saw it,” Steuer remembers. She was so inspired that she ordered the video.

Here’s the twist. Michele has used a wheelchair her whole life because she was born with spina bifida.

Spina bifida is a relatively common birth defect where the bones of a person’s spine don’t close properly around the spinal cord during pregnancy. People with moderate to severe spina bifida often have nerve damage and some level of paralysis in the legs that may require them to use a wheelchair, crutches or braces.

So Michele wasn’t exactly an obvious candidate for kickboxing.

“Do you think you can do this?” her mother asked. “Heck yeah, I can modify this,” she answered. Michele resolved to figure out how to adapt the program to her abilities, turning various lower-body kick moves into equivalent upper-body punches. Little did she know that this newfound passion would propel her to become a certified instructor and teach classes for people with disabilities.

Michele loved the Turbo Jam video from the start. “I was doing it seven days a week,” she said. The exercise, combined with following a low-carb diet, helped her lose weight and become more flexible. Important for someone who grows stiff sitting in a wheelchair all day.

After about six months, Michele talked to the director of a week-long summer camp for people with disabilities that was sponsored by a local church. “I was telling her how excited I am about this program. And she said, ‘Can you show it to us at camp?’” Michele gave it some thought and decided that she had enough time to modify a routine and put it to music. But she wasn’t sure how to go about demonstrating it to other people.

When Michele learned about an upcoming Turbo Kick (similar to Turbo Jam) training class, that’s when it clicked, and she realized she wanted to become a certified instructor. Knowing her disability would make her different from most participants, Michele initially felt some hesitation. What if they told her she couldn’t pass the training? But she was welcomed with open arms. “The minute I came into that room, you could feel the love,” she recalls.

Michele got certified to teach Turbo Kick in April 2009. Later, she also became a certified instructor for Hip Hop Hustle, another exercise program she describes as being “more dancy” than Turbo Kick.

Michele taught Turbo Kick moves at the summer camp for three years until it closed due to a lack of funding. She tried to pull together a Turbo Kick fundraiser for the camp, but the idea came too late so she had to scrap it. Afterward, Michele asked the staff at Xtreme Family Fitness in Lee’s Summit, where she’d planned to hold the fundraiser, “Would there be any way I could just do a class and see how people like it?” They said yes.

Michele held an open house and taught her first Turbo Kick lessons at Xtreme Family Fitness in June 2012. Her mother cautioned her not to get too disappointed if the class didn’t pan out, and Michele steeled herself for low attendance. But as the only instructor in town teaching Turbo and Hustle from a wheelchair, she’s begun to attract attention and interest. She’s taught Turbo Kick and Hustle classes one Saturday afternoon a month ever since, charging attendees $5 per class.

While most of her participants have physical disabilities, Michele says, “I will teach anybody. Just because you’re able-bodied doesn’t mean you can’t do a modification of Turbo or Hustle.” For example, someone with a foot injury could still sit in a chair and do the upper body moves.

She has gotten positive feedback so far from attendees. “They have a lot of fun in the class… I can see it in their faces when they come. They don’t come tired, they come excited.”

Michele encourages people to stop by her class to watch, especially if they want to test the waters before signing up as a participant. “My motto is if you can move your upper body, you can do Turbo. I don’t care how far you can punch or how high you can punch or whatever.”

She has been impressed by stories other area instructors have shared about class participants that have physical disabilities, including a woman with one leg who attends a PiYo (pilates and yoga combination) class. “And she did everything with only one leg,” Michele said, amazed.

Michele’s goal is to reach more people in the disabilities community with the message: “Hey, there’s more stuff out there than just your basic chair exercises, or your basic exercises period.” She knows the benefits of physical activity are even more important for people with disabilities, since they tend to have less active lifestyles. Michele likes the interaction that’s possible in a class setting. But she’s also willing to teach on a one-to-one basis.

These days, Michele has slowed down to doing Turbo Kick on her own just three or four times a week because she spends more time caring for her mother. Both are proud of her accomplishments.

“I wish I could’ve started this when my dad was alive,” she said. “He would be, like, beaming. I know he would.”

Souper serving

red stoneware soup mug with plastic lid

My rosy red CorningWare mug

I cook a lot of soup. One, because I really like using my dutch oven. And two, because soups yield leftovers aplenty and are good reheated for days on end. Easy to toss a container in my lunch bag during the week. (Sadly, sometimes accompanied by leakage.)

Well, my soup-slurping ways have gotten a reboot. I bought a couple of these 20-oz CorningWare stoneware mugs from Target the other day. They called out to me from the end of an aisle, with their ridged sides, bright colors, sturdy handles, and promise of tightly sealed lids. (Curse those marketers and their enticing endcaps!) This is one of those unplanned purchases that was worth every nickel.

No longer do I need to pour soup from whatever container I brought to work into a bigger bowl, crossing my fingers that the thing won’t bubble over in the microwave or burn my hands as I hoist it out, piping hot. This soup mug is perfectly suited to its function. Exactly big enough. The vented lid prevents Mt. Vesuvius-like eruptions. And the handle allows for easy toting. (As a non-coffee drinker, I don’t get to use handled mugs often enough.) And, oh, what a seal! Like super glue.

I’d like to tip my spoon to the designer of something so practical.

 

 

 

Start the new year with a new way of commuting

RideShare website upgrades make it easier to find someone to share the ride with

Need to find ways to stretch a tight budget further in 2012? Take a look at your commute to work. Transportation costs are the second-largest expense for most households, and while commuters can’t change the price of gas, they can control how much they drive. Many people may be surprised to find that with a little extra planning, alternatives like carpooling, riding the bus or bicycling can work for them — if only occasionally — and rack up significant savings.

RideShare Connection (www.ridesharekc.org) is an online tool that helps commuters in Greater Kansas City and St. Joseph find alternatives to driving alone. Users can create free, secure accounts to search for carpool, vanpool, bicycle or bus partners based on their starting and destination points, work hours and preferences. The site can also help people track commute trips and monitor their savings. And participants can sign up for Guaranteed Ride Home service to access a free taxi ride home in case of emergency.

RideShare Connection’s recent website upgrade resulted in a number of helpful new features for users:

  • The option to set more than one commute profile to accommodate varying daily schedules
  • The ability to change suggested routes on one’s ride-match map (generated by Google Maps)
  • Links to Google transit and bicycle trip planning from one’s commute profile
  • Integration with Facebook and LinkedIn social networking sites
  • The ability to look for ride matches for events, such as First Fridays (set up by request)

“People have become much more comfortable connecting online through technology,” said RideShare Program Manager Marge Gasnick. “RideShare Connection now makes it easier for commuters to find ride matches by interfacing with popular social networks. The new system is also more flexible, allowing people to better tailor their profiles and searches to meet their needs.”

Employers are also increasingly concerned with how their employees get to work. Commuting costs and access to reliable transportation can affect retention and recruitment. RideShare Connection offers an employer module, which allows companies to manage a free carpool-matching website with custom content for their employees. Subscribers can find ridesharing opportunities at the company or within the larger regional carpool-matching database. And the site’s reporting tool helps companies monitor alternative transportation use, miles of driving saved, and reductions in harmful emissions. Employers who would like to offer this service to employees should contact RideShare at 816-842-7433 for more information.

The RideShare Connection website is a partnership between the Mid-America Regional Council’s RideShare Program and St. Joseph, Mo. It is based on award-winning Greenride Connect software developed by Ecology and Environment, Inc.

RideShare is a publicly funded commuter-matching service for anyone who lives, works or attends school in the Greater Kansas City area. The service informs people about less expensive and environmentally friendly commuting alternatives. RideShare also helps employers develop alternative transportation programs. For more information, call 816-842-RIDE (7433) or visit www.marc.org/rideshare.

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Mid-America Regional Council news release
January 2012

Long-range transportation plan charts new course

In June 2010, MARC’s Board of Directors approved an aspiring new long-range transportation plan that guides how the Kansas City region will manage, operate and invest $18 billion in its transportation system over the next 30 years. Transportation Outlook 2040 responds to many pressures we are facing. How can we grow more efficiently, maintain a competitive economy and preserve the health of the environment, while enabling everyone to access opportunity?

The plan lays out a broad set of goals — from decreasing the use of fossil fuels and creating quality public spaces to taking care of existing transportation infrastructure. Central to Transportation Outlook 2040 is a new vision for how transportation investments will relate to land use in the future. It focuses development in activity centers connected by key transportation corridors that accommodate walkers, bicyclists and high-capacity transit in addition to cars. For the first time, the landmark plan also establishes performance measures that will help assess how the region is making progress toward its goals over time.

“This was, by far, the most extensive attempt to look into the future that we have ever done for the Kansas City region — not just within each of our individual communities,” said John Rod, planning and development manager for the city of Overland Park, and co-chair of MARC’s Technical Forecast Committee.

“As messy as it sometimes can become, the effort of identifying and discussing the factors that have and will likely influence our region’s growth will also help each of our communities to see where we might need to begin discussions that would help us achieve the future our community wants to see happen.”

MARC committees and staff worked with area planners, elected officials and residents to develop Transportation Outlook 2040, sparking the broadest range of participation yet in developing a long-range transportation plan for Greater Kansas City. The results reflect common themes of sustainable development found in local government comprehensive plans.

Mid-America Regional Council
2010 Annual Review

Wi-Fi on area buses helps riders work while commuting

Commuters often grumble about losing valuable time while they travel to and from work. Last year, Johnson County Transit conducted a pilot project to test wireless Internet performance on several of its buses. The Wi-Fi system enabled riders to use laptop computers and other wireless mobile devices to access the Internet for free. Riders appreciated being able to make more use of their commute time, which led the agency to install equipment and deploy Wi-Fi permanently on 15 of its buses — including ones that travel the K-10 Connector route between Overland Park and Lawrence.

Since August, riders on Wi-Fi-equipped buses have been able to use their wireless-enabled devices to surf the Web, check e-mail, and work while commuting at no charge, which is especially helpful on longer trips. Scott Caldwell, The JO’s technical services manager, said riders are overwhelmingly pleased with the amenity, and they are clamoring for Wi-Fi on more buses and with faster connections.

Jeff Arterburn from Overland Park rides the K-10 Connector from the University of Kansas – Edwards Campus to Lawrence once a week for graduate school. He chooses to take the bus because “it saves on my fuel and car wear and tear.” On those days, his combined commute to Lawrence and back lasts about an hour and 40 minutes. Sometimes he uses the Wi-Fi service to be more productive on his way to and from school, but more often he spends his commute catching up on sleep. Arteburn says the Wi-Fi service is pretty easy to use. “I think it is a good move,” he says of The JO’s newest passenger amenity.

Wi-Fi is currently provided through a partnership with Sprint Nextel Corp. and SinglePoint Communications. Buses equipped with Wi-Fi are identified by signs inside, and most rotate between The JO’s various routes to maintain vehicle wear and tear.

Outfitting an entire bus fleet with Wi-Fi is an expensive undertaking, but The JO is looking at advertising sponsorship as a model to cover the cost of deploying service on more buses in the future. Arterburn says he wouldn’t mind being exposed to more ads as long as they’re not obtrusive and the service doesn’t collect user information.

To access Wi-Fi on the bus, a rider must open an Internet browser on their laptop or wireless mobile device, which will detect the Wi-Fi source. Once the rider has accepted the terms of use, they can access any site by typing in a Web address directly into the Internet browser’s address bar.

The JO believes it is the first transit agency in the four-state area to offer this amenity to passengers, and it hopes it will help attract more riders. Metro buses operated by Kansas City Area Transportation Authority don’t offer Wi-Fi, though the agency is looking into ways to provide this at some point in the future.

For more information about how to use The JO’s onboard Wi-Fi service, and which buses offer it, visit http://www.thejo.com/riders/wifi.shtml.

KC Commuter e-newsletter
November/December 2010