When MRCI, a nonprofit that provides employment for people with disabilities, first acquired a warehouse near the Minnesota State University campus in the late 1970s, up to 400 clients arrived daily to do light assembly and packaging work. That building is now on the market and empty of those workers, who are increasingly working out in the community for hundreds of employers.
MRCI recently hosted a public sale of surplus office furniture from the building and others in the region as part of multi-year plan to consolidate buildings while providing more choices to clients to match their personal interests with meaningful work.
“Part of what’s happened is we’ve moved more and more people into the community getting jobs, so the number of people working in-house is diminished,” said MRCI Executive Director Brian Benshoof. “Over the last 15 years, a lot of that kind of work has gone overseas, and we’ve found it more challenging to come up with work for people to do.”
The plan to consolidate was already in place before the pandemic. But Gov. Tim Walz’s March stay-at-home order, to slow the spread of COVID-19, left few MRCI workers employed. The pandemic forced MRCI to lay off about 350 people.
Like many other organizations, MRCI was put under financial strain. “A large piece of our funding went away March 18, and so did our revenue,” Benshoof said. “We were left with a number of buildings where we only used half of the space. Over half of this building wasn’t being used, and it was getting expensive.”
MRCI will consolidate its two Mankato locations into one, at 1750 Energy Drive, which will be used to house administrative offices.
Changes are also being made in how clients are placed with employers, and in how social activities are delivered. Many social activities have gone online.
The individualized approach means MRCI will be selling its fleet of 80-plus buses in exchange for purchasing about 200 minivans. For daily outings, the 1,300 clients they serve will be placed into small groups of four and one staff member each day. How they choose to spend each day in the community will depend on what each group decides to do each week.
Benshoof said MRCI’s new approach is unprecedented in Minnesota. While the pandemic has forced them to adapt, he said it will ultimately lead to advancing their mission of serving both clients and employers.
(Source: Mankato Free Press)