July 22, 2016
Last weekend, a team of dedicated cyclists arrived in Chicago, an important stop on their 3,500-mile cross-country bike ride to raise awareness for adults with disabilities and to increase opportunities for those seeking employment. Bikers from the Pursuit ride for those with disABILITIES (http://www.pursuitride.org) have already raised over $12 million to support one such organization in Houston -- The Center -- but their influence extends beyond Texas's borders. They are meeting with 31 organizations across the country to learn about other innovative programs that help people with disabilities address challenges in their lives.
On Sunday the Pursuit Riders visited Aspire, a non-profit that serves nearly 600 children and more than 300 adults with disabilities every year in Chicagoland. One of the people on the visit was Naperville's own Mark Kirstein, an advocate on the issue and the father of Liam, an 18-year-old with autism. Kirstein is the Greater Chicago Marketing & Sales Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the title sponsors of Pursuit. When he learned the riders were visiting Chicago he immediately asked how he could help.
"My wish, like that of all parents, is that Liam and others who are differently-abled will be employed in a meaningful way and will be able to contribute to society and live as independently as possible," he said.
As part of his commitment to decrease the 80% unemployment rate for people with disabilities in the US, Kirstein helped create a program at Aspire called CareerLink, which consists of real world, pre-training environments (such as a mock distribution center and mock retail store) where individuals with intellectual, cognitive and physical disabilities can engage and enhance their skills in a safe environment and then hone their skills while working at the companies that partner with Aspire. In its first two years, 90% of the students completing the program are working approximately 20 hours a week--including Liam, who has a job with a local park district on the maintenance staff. Liam will be heading off to the University of Iowa in the Fall to attend a 2-year program called UI-REACH--Realizing Education and Career Hopes.
More information about Aspire's Career Link can be found at https://www.aspirechicago.com/aspire-careerlink/.