Terry Caywood, corporate consultant and director of vehicle maintenance, said clients appreciate the work.
“They are no different from you and I in that they want to make money and they want to stay busy,” Caywood said. “They want something to do in the [Opportunity Center] workroom. Tearing paper insults their intelligence and mine. That is the worst thing in the world to do to people, just giving them busy work.”
Around 60 to 70 clients show up each day for work. They put in six hours every day at the Life Bridge’s Opportunity Center working on various contracts. These include work with Rubbermaid, Cleveland Tubing, Lubing of Cleveland and others. Caywood said the company’s bread and butter is its contract with Peyton’s, the supplier for Kroger Grocery Stores.
A permanent contract was written up between the two companies when Peyton’s discovered how well Life Bridges’ clients cleaned totes. The distribution company goes through more than 24,000 totes in one day. These totes are used to ship out everything from food to pharmaceuticals.
In 2008, Peyton’s requested Life Bridges clients to focus solely on the pharmaceutical totes. These totes need to be thoroughly cleaned. The company believed clients’ attention to detail would serve them well.
“They have been so good to us. We used to have a saying, either feast or famine,” Caywood said.
Work was often seasonal, in spite of several contracts. Cleaning totes for Peyton’s is continuos. Workers spend several hours each day focused on the task. According to Gary Ownbey, program coordinator, workers clean up to 1,000 totes a day.
Ron Chastain, program supervisor, agreed Peyton’s is a consistent source of work for clients.
“Peyton’s is our best, most reliable contractor and we have a really good relationship with them,” Chastain said. “We’ve been doing this for about five years, and it is full time. They always have totes for us. They never run out.”
Ownbey said workers appreciate the work, if not necessarily the task.
“One of our workers despises cleaning totes, but she does them, and she does a great job. She probably does more than [anyone else],” Ownbey said.
Chastain said sometimes all clients need is a break between tasks.
“They get a little tired having to do the same thing, but today they are taking a break with the broom handles,” Chastain said.
Ownbey said others prefer to continue cleaning totes.
“Some of them won’t do handles. They want to do the totes every day,” Ownbey said.
Clients are paid for each completed job whether that is cleaning totes, working on broom handles or another task.
Caywood said Life Bridges takes care of each client’s insurance, workers’ compensation and transportation.
Most of all, it takes care of its clients.
“We try to make it fun, or else they won’t keep working. If you are in an industry, you keep your nose to the ground. We keep it more flexible here,” Caywood said. “If someone is getting tired, then we can let them take a break because we have more than enough people.”
“We tell them they can take a break or talk to someone, but if they are not cleaning a tote then they are not making money.”
How many totes are completed each day varies from person to person. Some clients clean five and others will do up to 100.
Caywood believes clients at Life Bridges have a lot to offer to local companies.
“I want to give credit where credit is due. This company helps workers with disabilities,” Caywood said. “A lot of companies believe it will cost money to bring on board workers with disabilities. They say they are going to be liable. These workers are not a liability, they are an asset.”
“... Do you see how much money they are saving? All [companies] have to do is pay a flat rate per tote. All the other is out of their way.”
Caywood said he would like to promote industry and community relationships.
“These are dependable clients,” Caywood said. “You and I might get really bored doing the same thing week after week, but our folks can do monotonous work year after year.”
“... We want to give them something which is number one, a real job and number two, makes them some money.”