MLIVE: It's 20 years and counting for Midwest Enterprises for the Blind in Kalamazoo
By Al Jones -
A police color guard and civic leaders helped the employees and friends of Midwest Enterprises for the Blind celebrate its 20th year in Kalamazoo at noon Friday.
The organization, whose mission is to provide employment opportunities for people who are legally blind, was praised for successfuly providing those opportunities for people who struggle to find work.
“I thank them for the difference they have made in lots of lives,” said U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph.
Midwest Enterprises for the Blind is a self-sustaining, nonprofit company that receives no support from the United Way or other philanthropic organizations. It got its start here in 1993 in a small warehouse on South Street in downtown Kalamazoo. It has relocated twice since then and since 2008 has been located in 40,000 square feet of space at 2207 Lake St.
Nationally, the unemployment rate among blind people is about 70 percent, said Karen Walls, president of the MWEB.
“In Kalamazoo, from what I’ve heard, it’s 50 percent,” she said. That is better than other places but not good, she said.
The organization had six workers when Walls joined it in 1998. It now has 30 now, including herself and 25 legally blind workers who do light-manufacturing, assembly, warehousing and packaging work.
“We have a waiting list,” she said. “We have a lot of people in the area who are looking for employment.”
She said the challenge is to find work for them; for people she described as talented, smart, reliable, responsible and happy to have jobs.
“We’re always looking for new business because that enables us to provide more employment," Walls said. "We are self-supporting from the sale of our products.”
MWEB associates assembly six different components used in calculators. Their current work also involves assembling four different types of blow-foam-filled folding table tops, and the seat for one type of folding chair.