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Shred of Dignity for Disabled Workers

Louise Graham Regeneration Center
Employees of the Louise Graham Regeneration Center sort through waste paper.

Two years ago, the Louise Graham Regeneration Center, which employs developmentally disabled adults at its St. Petersburg paper recycling plant, nearly shut down. Prices for its recycled products were falling, and it was winning fewer contracts to pick up waste paper to recycle. The lack of business meant the center had to employ fewer disabled adults, which resulted in less government funding. Louise Graham survived, however, because the R’Club, a St. Petersburg non-profit that provides child-care and after-school programs, bailed it out and took over management duties.

Al Soto, the center’s director and an R’Club executive, oversaw the comeback and aims to keep the center self-sufficient by expanding its business into document shredding. Last year, Soto helped the non-profit receive a five-year, $150,000 loan from the National Industries for the Support of the Handicapped (NISH) to start up a document destruction business. NISH also has helped non-profits get into the document business in Fort Myers, Green Cove Springs, Melbourne and south Florida.

To Soto, the new line of work is a perfect fit for Louise Graham, which employs 50 and has been in the paper recycling business since 1992. Earlier this year, with help from NISH, Louise Graham won an ongoing contract to destroy sensitive documents for the federal government. Louise Graham ships the shredded paper to a recycler in Clearwater, which uses it to manufacture toilet paper, paper towels and other products. Louise Graham then sells those products to local governments and businesses.

Art O’Hara, R’Club’s executive director, says non-profits today will fail if they rely only on government funding. “The keyword now is entrepreneurship.”