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Carving Careers: Inside Sunrise Woodworks

Banner image with a wood background. The Sunrise logo and title "Carving Careers: Inside Sunrise Woodworks" is in white on the background.

A History of Competitive Employment Efforts

In 1969, Geraldine and Vance Schwartz founded the Work Oriented Rehabilitation Center (WORC), an organization that would develop workplace skills and job training for adults with developmental disabilities. After decades of providing critical services, Sunrise acquired the WORC to provide greater resources and efficiencies.

The WORC worked to offer job opportunities for people who have been marginalized because of society’s misunderstanding of their abilities. The programs developed through these efforts allowed participants to learn skills such as collating, packaging, assembling, mailing, etc. While these contracted jobs helped place many people with disabilities in competitive employment, one program stands out among the rest.

Sunrise Woodworks

Enter Sunrise Woodworks, a one-of-a-kind woodshop located in Daytona Beach, Florida, where participants learn about the safe use of machinery and how to produce items such as wooden stakes. The 2,600-SF shop houses a wide range of machinery, including two table saws, four miter saws, and a commercial banding machine to help bundle the stakes. If you’re a woodworking novice, just know the operation has high-performing equipment which allows the shop to run like a well-oiled machine.

The shop’s origins are founded on the vision to see and actualize the potential in everyone. The woodshop currently has six participants, some of whom have been working in the woodshop for over 30 years. To join the team, a person supported will express their interest in the shop. If they are approved for work, they spend two weeks observing the others and wearing safety gear. After the shadow period, the individual will be given a role that aligns with their abilities, interests, and skills. Then, they are trained on one machine and supervised. Over time they can learn other machine operations and all safety measures associated with them.

Note: safety is paramount in the woodshop and is taught before anything else.

Meet the Sunrise Woodworks Team 

The woodshop employees continue to produce a variety of wood stakes for the survey and construction industries, all while earning a paycheck for their skills. Despite their varying abilities, the members of Sunrise Woodworks come to work every day ready to apply themselves to their trade. They exude so much passion and are eager to share their final products with consumers. The team has also joined the fight against COVID-19 by assembling over 6,000 COVID-19 test kits. Now let’s meet some of the team members! 

Tommy joined the woodshop in 1984, where he quickly developed skills in every operation, from cutting and pointing stakes to making rebar pins and concrete monuments. He now sits on the safety committee and says he still enjoys working with his teammates.

Michael joined the woodshop in 1991. Since then, he has learned to work at pointing, bundling, and catching stakes on the saw.

Scotty started his time with the woodshop in 2008. He enjoys working with his teammates in the woodshop and likes pointing and catching on to the saw.

In 2004, Melvin joined the woodshop. He primarily does the pointing operation utilizing a miter saw to create a point on one end of the stake. Melvin likes being part of the team.

Neil has been coming to work at the woodshop for many years. He is one of the leading saw operators and is also skilled in all the operations of making stakes.

Vanessa, the most recent addition to the team, started in the woodshop in 2018. Despite her recent arrival, she enjoys working with her teammates to produce stakes. 

All six members of the woodshop team possess unique skills and abilities but share one common goal; they all want to be part of the workforce and earn income for their work! The Sunrise woodshop has allowed them to do so, but their drive is what has helped them succeed. 

If you would like to show support to the Sunrise woodshop, here are three ways you can do so: 

Purchasing the woodshops products

  • If you’re not in the construction and surveying industry, maybe you know someone who is! 

Financial donations

  • All donations received for the woodshop will be used to enhance the shop and for new equipment as needed. 

Share the story, like and follow the shop on social media

  • If you don’t know anyone who would benefit from wooden goods and can’t contribute a monetary donation, just sharing the shop’s story may help it reach the right audience! 
  • Engage with them on social media so they can reach others who may be interested in supporting this initiative.

Better Futures Ahead

At Sunrise, we believe that a disability should not determine where and if you should be able to work. Together we are working to empower people to choose the course of their lives, such as where they live, where they secure and maintain a job, and how they exercise their rights. There is an abundance of people with disabilities who are qualified and willing to work hard to get ahead.

In 2021, 19.1% of people with a disability were employed, compared with 63.7% of people without a disability, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With over 80% of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities unemployed nationwide, programs like Sunrise Woodworks create opportunities for people with disabilities to experience the joy of having a job.

Marc Jason, Sunrise Woodworks Manager, hopes the woodshop’s story can inspire businesses to hire people with disabilities while also encouraging the community to support companies that do. Marc takes great pleasure in working with the woodshop team, especially when he can teach them something new. As the projects take shape, the team learns the assembly process and finishes the job. He believes this work gives the participants self-worth and confidence, which is essential in achieving happiness and contentment along with the value of routine.