ELKHART — Steve Germani is going the distance.
For the next seven months, Germani will be training to run in the Chicago Marathon, a race that draws thousands of people to the Windy City every year. But instead of collecting pledges for his favorite nonprofit group, Germani wants to do something truly life changing for clients at ADEC Inc., an organization that works with children and adults with cognitive and developmental disabilities. For every mile that he runs in the marathon, he hopes to get an ADEC client hired.
“I just don’t think there’s anything more impactful than having the ability to contribute,” said Germani, ADEC’s marketing and development manager. “I think it’s a basic need, and sometimes it’s taken for granted or overlooked, and there’s just this whole pool of people who are no different. They just want an opportunity to contribute. Even just earning a paycheck of their own is a huge deal. It changes your life, and so if we can move that metric, it’s a good thing.”
The employment rate for people with intellectual disabilities between the ages of 18 and 64 is slightly more than 22 percent, according to the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire. That figure is far too low, Germani said.
“Whether it’s a good economy or a bad economy, whether it’s here locally or somewhere in California or New York, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “Across the board, that metric of employment for people with disabilities, especially cognitive disabilities, it just never moves. Nothing happens, and I think there are a lot of reasons for that, but my hope is doing something like this will help move that metric here locally just a little bit.”
ADEC’s employment services division provides job coaching for clients with disabilities and works with businesses to develop jobs in Elkhart and St. Joseph counties. The program serves more than 350 men and women, most of whom are still looking for jobs.
“When people think of ADEC, they probably often think of our day programs or our group homes or our transportation systems, but employment is not only a very important program that ADEC offers, but I’ve always felt like it has the potential to have the greatest impact on the quality of life for our clients,” Germani said.
The 26.2-mile race in Chicago on Oct. 13 will be Germani’s first full-length marathon, though he has run in a couple of half marathons. He has been keeping in shape by jogging at the indoor track at Goshen College and playing basketball. In May, Germani plans to intensify his workout routine by running four days a week and gradually lengthening his distance each month.
“It’s going to take some discipline of me to get up every day to go run, and I’ll have to keep reminding myself why I’m doing this,” Germani said. “To a certain extent, I think that’s true for our clients and employers as well. There has to be a commitment made to really want to make it work and make it happen.”
Finishing a marathon has been a long-time personal goal for Germani, but more importantly, he wants to educate the public about the skills and talents ADEC’s clients can contribute to the workforce.
“There’s not a doubt about it. It’s going to be hard, but I see a lot of parallels there,” he said. “You kind of have to make a decision as to whether or not you want it, and I think it’s very similar for our clients. It’s not easy for them sometimes to go find employment.”
Germani will be chronicling his journey leading up to the Chicago Marathon on ADEC’s new blog online at www.adecstandsout.wordpress.com and the organization’s downloadable smartphone app.