PRINCETON — Since the mid-80s, Gateway Services, Inc. has maintained a contract with Illinois Department of Transportation specifically designed to give people with disabilities opportunity for employment at both northbound and southbound Great Sauk Trail rest areas on Interstate 80, just west of Princeton.
It’s been a beneficial partnership that’s provided clients of Gateway many opportunities for not only janitorial and groundskeeping work, but also managerial positions and work experience that’s led to clients being hired for other jobs within the community.
“It’s always been an opportunity for people to learn as they’re working,” explained Tracy Wright, CEO of Gateway. “A lot of people have gained a lot of skills and even learned independence in working.”
One gentleman from Gateway, Ron Rote, has been employed at the rest areas since November 1998. He is now nearing retirement age, but currently has no plans to retire anytime soon.
This month, Gateway Services is recognizing area businesses and organizations who take part in the Community Employment Services (CES) program to provide employment opportunities for the clients at Gateway. It’s one of Gateway’s ways of observing National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which strives to educate about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of American’s workers with disabilities.
“We want to spread the important message that we value all perspectives, especially those of individuals with disabilities,” Wright said. “Individuals involved in the CES program have a wide range of disabilities from intellectual or learning disabilities that have been lifelong to physical and medical disabilities that have occurred later in life ... Our philosophy is that everyone who has a desire to work should be given the opportunity to find a meaningful job suited to his/her interests and abilities.”
During this awareness month, Wright also would like to area businesses to know that Gateway is a resource for those looking for support on job accommodation or disability employment issues. While it may not be able to answer all inquiries, she said it will work to point employers in the right direction to receive an answer for their issue.
Also, Gateway is always looking for more employers to work with through its CES program.
Gateway currently has 11 employees that work out at the Great Sauk Trail rest areas. There are two crews that work shifts. The rest area is staffed from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. 365 days a year. Every worker makes above minimum wage. It should be noted that it’s a fully integrated work program, meaning people without disabilities can apply and be hired to work at the rest areas as well.
The crews’ hard work at the rest areas has been recognized by thousands of people over the years. Gateway has a scrapbook filled with positive comments received from travelers — some from overseas even — who’ve stopped at the rest areas and took notice at how well maintain they were and wanted to share their positive experience with Gateway.
Michael Brown, CES program supervisor, said it’s one of the cleanest rest areas in the state, and the clients take a lot of pride in the work they do there. He said when compliments come in it really improves the spirit among workers and encourages them to feel like the work they’re doing really matters.
“It’s not the hardest job, yet not the easiest job, but it’s an important job. Where would we be without their janitorial skills and willingness to do the dirty work?” he questioned.
The rest area is overseen by supervisor Melissa Stevens, who Brown said has given the rest areas a good feel over the years. Even now, during a time when the employment scene has been tough, Stevens has kept up the level of satisfaction and maintained professionalism as if there were no employee shortage.
Tawnya Marciniak is Gateway’s director of community services and was appointed contract administrator of the Great Sauk Trail rest areas. Before she received that appointment, she never paid much attention to the cleanliness of rest areas, but she does today, and is proud of the work the employees do out there on the interstate.
She said the key to the positive work atmosphere out there is the level of teamwork the employees share among one another. She explained how it’s a great crew that pulls together to ensure shifts get covered and the work is done properly. During the current employee shortage, employees have had to reschedule vacations or come in to work on their days off, and there’s never any issue of having to make those sacrifices because of their willingness to pull together to get it done, she explained.
The Great Sauk Trail rest areas receive more than 1 million visitors a year.