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Disability Independence: How Endeavors Unlimited Employees Are Building Lives They Deserve

COMMUNITY SERVICES

Meet the award-winning, hardworking, and skilled Endeavors Unlimited employees keeping Houston clean, landscaped, and safe. The twist? They all live with a disability.

Endeavors Unlimited Regional Manager James Bower leads a team of landscaping, custodial, and sanitation professionals in Houston. The twist? Every single one of his employees lives with some kind of disability. We sat down with Bower to learn more about the amazing individuals at Endeavors Unlimited working towards a more stable, independent life.

What Is Endeavors Unlimited, And How Does It Work?

Endeavors Unlimited is a nonprofit landscaping, custodial, and sanitation business that employs people with disabilities to empower them towards independence and stability. Endeavors Unlimited (or EU, as we like to call it) is a branch of Endeavors that operates a separately from our other pillars. Nonetheless, EU furthers the mission of our organization by uplifting people in need, specifically people who have been overlooked or underserved due to physical or mental disabilities. 

In turn, our teams provide high-quality commercial services for businesses and government entities in the Houston area including Ellington Field Reserve Base and the Texas Department of Public Safety.

We believe that with support and opportunity, people with disabilities have unlimited possibilities. 

Meeting A Need For Disabled Workers In Texas

“Texas has the second largest population of people with disabilities,” Bower explains. “But it is one of the worst states as far as employing adults with disabilities. How can that be?” 

When individuals with disabilities enter the workforce, they often experience challenges.The unemployment rate for adults with disabilities is usually double the rate for individuals without, and on average they earn less than their non-disabled colleagues at every level of education. Unfortunately, employers can be reluctant to hire people with disabilities, when in fact disabled people often bring invaluable traits to the workplace.

At Endeavors Unlimited, we’re working to highlight all the ways employees with disabilities can strengthen a business, and the small management and procedural changes businesses can do to empower their employees of all abilities. “There is a huge need for our program in the state,” Bower affirms.

Building A Supportive Workplace

Currently, a large majority of the professionals at Endeavors Unlimited are deaf. And while they can’t hear rocks kick off of weed eaters or a mower engine start to sputter, with additional safety measures, they are equally capable of mastering the equipment and craft of the job. Several employees live with other physical or developmental disabilities. 

What does a typical day at Endeavors Unlimited look like? “In the mornings, when I go in everybody on my team is talking and everything, but it is silent,” Bower shares. Instead of chatting out loud, employees may communicate via ASL or text message. “They’re having those same water cooler conversations, but it’s completely silent.”

As a team lead, Bower was faced with the question, “How do you earn the respect of someone you can’t even talk to?” Slowly but surely, he learned enough ASL (American Sign Language) to communicate with his deaf employees. When he and his team experience miscommunications, they pause and text each other to make sure they’re on the same page. (The EU team even hosted an introduction to ASL for Endeavors leadership, where they learned 25 common signs to use in the workplace.

After the morning team meeting, the landscape crews drive off to maintain and beautify large private and government job sites. With EU’s focus on developing employees into leaders, the point people for large government projects may live with deafness or other disabilities. Getting our employees with disabilities in conversation with military and government leaders is “huge,” Bower says. 

Across Houston, Endeavors Unlimited employees are making massive contributions to their community.

Employees like Terrance…

A veteran of the Endeavors Unlimited landscaping crew, Terrance is, in Bower’s words, “the most smiley, happy gentleman on the planet.” He is a master landscaper and a seasoned leader who pays extreme attention to detail. 

Employees like Fred…

A member of the Endeavors Unlimited landscaping crew with a knack for mechanics, Fred quickly proved himself an irreplaceable asset by performing complex repairs on the landscaping vehicles and equipment that would have cost thousands at a repair shop. “He has all of these amazing skills,” Bower muses, “but nobody in his past let him do this.”

At Endeavors Unlimited, Fred has found a business that needs his skills and talent.

Employees like Van…

“Within that first week, Van stepped out and she kind of took me under her wing,” Bower remembers of his early days leading EU. Despite being deaf, Van quickly became Bower’s right-hand employee, leading her team members, serving as point-person for large projects, and managing an enormous amount of EU’s office workload. But her influence has reached beyond the realm of EU, and into our entire organization. Thanks to Van’s attendance at Endeavors leadership meetings, all Endeavors virtual meetings are now closed-captioned for total accessibility.  

Van started her EU career on the custodial team over four years ago, but she quickly moved up to a supervisory role overseeing the custodial, landscaping, and sanitation teams. In 2020, Van was named the “Most Motivational Employee” by WorkQuest, a nonprofit that connects Texans with disabilities to job opportunities, and is the first Endeavors Unlimited employee to promote to management level. 

(Learn more about Van & her EU story here.)

Employees like Eli…

Before coming to Endeavors Unlimited, Eli was pursuing a career in accounting, but his work environment wasn’t supportive enough to accommodate his disability. When he transitioned to the custodial team with Endeavors, his work ethic was instantly obvious, and he rose to the top as a leader. Now, he helps to develop the team by taking new employees under his wing and training them one-on-one. Today, Eli leads his team on a custodial contract for Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston. 

“Here is a deaf, disabled person that has climbed the ranks and is getting up to that management level opportunity,” says Bower. In fact, it wasn’t long before Eli took the initiative to take on some of the team’s admin tasks, as well. “He is so smart,” Bower urges, “but no one gave him a chance.” And, Bower adds, the traits of Eli’s disabilities can make him an extraordinary employee. “Eli is very by-the-book,” he explains. “That is great for us, because we operate on policy.” 

Greater Success Through Supportive Employment

Applying for a job with Endeavors Unlimited is just like applying for a job with another nonprofit or privately owned company. The bones of the business look very much like the bones of other landscaping and custodial companies, but for individuals who need additional support, our program also provides housing and life skills training. The idea is not only to employ, but to support and empower employees towards self-sufficiency during their professional development. 

Now, says Bower, “everybody’s paying their bills. Everybody’s getting off of Social Security.” With steady, supportive employment, Endeavors Unlimited employees are able to achieve the financial independence and stability that has been withheld from them by a workforce system that doesn’t always know how to accommodate their disabilities. They can afford safe and comfortable housing, support their families, and even drive a car they love — all the while becoming masters in their field.

Based on his experience, Bower says that all it takes to empower employees with disabilities to be “rockstars” is the patience to implement new and alternative work processes. 

And Eli, Terrance, Fred, and their colleagues are, indeed, rockstars. Endeavors Unlimited has received numerous awards and recognition, including a Certificate of Excellence from the Texas DPS. “Never before has any landscape contractor for the State of Texas Department of Public Safety received a certificate of excellence for all 12 of the DPS facilities,” Bower explains. “We did.” 

Endeavors Unlimited also received an A grade from Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base, an accolade that has never before been bestowed on a government contractor.

These accomplishments, and the personal successes Endeavors Unlimited employees have achieved, prove just how valuable individuals with disabilities are to our workplaces and our communities.

About Endeavors Unlimited

Endeavors Unlimited is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to employing and providing job supportive services to individuals with disabilities. With a goal of creating sustainable employment for those we employ, we partner with commercial and governmental agencies, both of whom rely on Endeavors Unlimited to provide them with quality, consistent, and professional landscaping, custodial, and sanitation services so they can focus on their business goals. To learn more about our program or request a quote for services, visit https://endeavors.org/endeavors-unlimited/.

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