TRICO set to mark 50 years aiding disabled in finding work

KINGSFORD — For almost 50 years, the non-profit TRICO Opportunities Inc. has assisted disabled people in the community to prepare for, find and maintain meaningful work.

The start came on Sept. 16, 1968, when a group of local parents and concerned citizens came together to establish TRICO as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization dedicated to offering work activities, skill building, job training, and employment for disabled persons in Dickinson and Iron counties in Michigan plus Wisconsin’s Florence County, later adding northern Marinette County, also in Wisconsin.

Partnerships since been forged with primary referral sponsors that include Northpointe Behavioral Healthcare System, Michigan Rehabilitation Services of Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation of Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development.

Governed by a volunteer board, TRICO has grown from those beginnings in a church basement on Brown Street in Iron Mountain to its current administrative, recycling and manufacturing facilities on Hooper Street in Kingsford, and a satellite operation in Iron County.

Through these 50 years, TRICO’s mission has been unchanged, officials with the organization said.

“Our work continues to remove barriers to employment for those with disabilities by remaining centered on maximizing abilities so that program participants become as self-reliant and self-supporting as possible,” said Christine Kruppstadt, TRICO executive director.

By harnessing available resources and working closely with sponsoring agencies, community employers, schools and other community partners, TRICO’s staff delivers vocational rehabilitation and support services in a manner that treats all persons with dignity and respect. In each of the past four years, TRICO has assisted nearly 200 individuals to build employment skills and job train on site and in community-based locations as part of enclaves and mobile work crews.

The programs include hands-on training and job placements for area high school and Dickinson-Iron Intermediate School District students, and job development activities designed to move participants into long-term, competitive, integrated, community-based employment.

TRICO does not receive federal or state funding for its operations.

“We never have,” Kruppstadt said, “short of some federal monies to assist with vehicle purchases and transportation services to accomplish our work with disabled persons. Our operating revenue is derived primarily from fee-for-service contracts, sales of TRICO products and private donations.”

Work at and through placement with TRICO includes facility-based employment doing recycling, confidential document destruction, TRI-Compost bagging and sales, and assembly/kitting projects for local manufacturers. TRICO still produces products like painted and stained routed wooden signs, wooden pallets, stakes and shipping containers manufactured at the Kingsford facility.

“TRICO also produces wooden smoke grenade boxes for the U.S. military and takes great pride in our status as a prime contractor for the government for over 30 years,” Kruppstadt said. Community-based work through TRICO includes general cleaning services for local businesses and agencies, lawn care and horticultural services, and production work for regional manufacturers.

Despite TRICO’s history of success, obstacles and challenges remain, Kruppstadt said.

“Ever-shrinking funding for our referral partners, despite recent sweeping federal and state legislative changes that impact the scope of our work; restrictive interpretation and application of regulatory language affecting the delivery of and payment for our services; as well as the challenges of remaining competitive as an employer and a non-profit agency in the face of labor and revenue shortages, have required that TRICO make massive shifts in its organizational structure and modes of delivering services,” she said. “What has not changed, however, is TRICO’s commitment to provide the range of services, opportunities and products we always have, at the level of quality and effectiveness we always have, and with an eye to continual improvements in our efficiencies that will ensure we remain competitive.”

TRICO will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a week-long series of events in both Dickinson and Iron counties this week. The public is invited to an open house at the Kingsford location from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday to tour the facility and hear from job coaches and staff about TRICO programs.

Also Thursday, TRICO is co-sponsoring an Iron County Business After Hours event, tickets required, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Paint River Landing in Crystal Falls to acknowledge the success of businesses and people who, with TRICO’s assistance, have achieved competitive, integrated employment.

On Friday, TRICO will close its 50th anniversary celebration by coordinating a “Take Your Legislator to Work Day” event beginning at 1 p.m. at McDonald’s in Iron Mountain.

For more information, contact Kruppstadt at 906-774-5718.