GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A local nonprofit organization has already helped over 70 people living with special needs find meaningful work and volunteer positions. Beyond26 was launched in 2018 to serve as a connection between those job seekers and area businesses willing to work as partners.
In Michigan, those living with special needs are able to stay within the state school system until they are 26 years old. For thousands of families across West Michigan, where they go after that is up in the air.
For executive director of Beyond26, Dirk Bakhuyzen, the work they do is personal. His son was born with Down syndrome.
“Most of us would like to have our kids find some type of a job, whether it be paid or unpaid," Bakhuyzen told FOX 17 Tuesday afternoon.
“And so, Beyond26 is what they do after that, after they're done with their schooling.”
At no cost to those seeking a job, they compile each person's name and photo, along with experience they may have and any additional support they will need to be successful in a position.
"And so that's what we present to potential employers."
For those not immediately placed at a partner business, they can start at Beyond26 Document Shredding.
“The document shredding really spun out of a summer job for my son," Bakhuyzen said.
"We use it as a training center, where we can kind of analyze a particular job seeker's gifts and abilities."
They have already found positions for over 70 people since they started in 2018.
Irina Bird started at Beyond26 in 2019, as their first paid employee.
“I get to connect with people with special needs, and that's cool. I understand what it's like to maybe not be welcomed and accepted,” Bird told FOX 17.
“I’m just really grateful for the opportunity to be here, just being able to connect with different people and just feeling like you're not alone.”
As people continue their work, Beyond26 checks in on them and their employers to make sure it's a good fit for everyone.