Morningside marks 50 years of helping those with disabilities

Weak economies make it difficult for able-bodied people to find steady employment. It’s twice as hard for people with disabilities. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the national unemployment rate in April was 6.9 percent for people without disabilities. It was nearly double – 12. 9 percent – for those with disabilities.

In two days, on Tuesday, a South Sound agency dedicated to helping the disabled find meaningful employment will celebrate it’s 50th anniversary. Morningside has been helping to train and secure employment for people with disabilities since 1963.

Morningside’s motto sums it up well, when “everybody works, everybody wins.”

Morningside began as a small, volunteer organization located in donated space in the basement of a church in Olympia, when there were very few options or resources for individuals with disabilities. It was formed by a motivated group of families and supportive community members long before the enactment of laws advancing public education for students with disabilities or civil rights legislation that provided protection from discrimination.

We salute that group of courageous parents who banded together to offer a local program rather than send their son or daughter to a state institution far from home.

What Morningside has accomplished in the last 50 years is remarkable. The fledgling, all-volunteer group has grown into a nationally recognized, multi-county organization providing high-quality employment services from four offices to clients in five counties. Over 500 persons with disabilities are served through Morningside annually.

In the early days, clients produced arts and crafts for sale at Morningside’s thrift store on Capitol Way. This quickly grew into a production facility on Olympia’s west side, and in 1972, a new building was dedicated in a ceremony attended by many, including Gov. Dan Evans.

Ten years ago, Morningside underwent a visionary transformation. Rather than continuing to serve all clients in a central facility, the organization pivoted to a service model focused on community-based job placements.

Morningside was the first program of significant size in the state to close its doors to segregated sheltered workshop employment.

Morningside has since provided guidance to other organizations serving people with disabilities, all of whom understand that full community integration benefits everyone involved — everybody works, everybody wins. Today all of the individuals Morningside works with are employed in the community.

Morningside is now located near the downtown Olympia core in the Business Center building, which also houses the Thurston Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Thurston County and the Business Incubator. The chamber partnership enabled Morningside to purchase the building and provides the unique combination of workforce development and workforce provider under one roof.

CEO Jim Larson has led Morningside for 23 of its 50 years into a community asset that assists hundreds of people with disabilities attain their dream of working in the community just like their family, friends, and neighbors.

Hiring qualified and competent people with disabilities can have added rewards, including tax benefits and a stronger public image. But even without those advantages, it’s simply the right thing to do.

We congratulate Morningside on its half-century of providing innovative, caring and successful employment services for individuals with disabilities to the South Sound community.