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Breaking barriers: Lakestate Industries raises money for its endowment fund

December 12, 2012
By Ilsa Matthes ( , Daily Press

ESCANABA - Lakestate Industries is currently raising money for its endowment fund. The organization helps people who have barriers to employment learn job skills and work for real pay.

"The whole idea of the endowment fund is for us to build funds so that we can serve people with barriers to employment long into the future," said Cheryl Ohman, executive director of Lakestate Industries.

The endowment fund began last year when the Maniaci family of Gladstone made a $10,000 donation to the organization in memory of Mark Maniaci. Mark had Down's syndrome and was one of the first people served by Lakestate. He died in 2006 at age 54.

Article Photos

David Berthume makes Yooper Firestarters at Lakestate Industries. In addition to making firestarters, individuals who are employed through Lakestate build furniture, create stringer boards for pallets, sort recycling, and do janitorial work throughout the community. (Daily Press photo by Ilsa Matthes)

When the organization began in 1969, only eight adults with disabilities were assisted by the program. Now more than 200 people with barriers to employment - such as cognitive disabilities, mental illness, or physical disabilities - are served by Lakestate every year.

"We've certainly grown over the last 40 years, and we really want to be able to sustain long into the future," said Ohman.

While not a government program, Lakestate does receive funding through Medicaid. As Medicaid funding changes so do the resources available to Lakestate.

"We bill Pathways (Community Mental Health) and Mental Health pulls from this pot of Medicaid dollars. We never know how much that pot is going to be," said Ohman.

Lakestate provides individuals who have barriers to employment opportunities to develop job skills. Some workers sort recyclable material or do janitorial work in the community. Others work at the Lakestate facility shredding documents, creating stringer boards for pallets, building furniture, or creating Yooper Firestarters.

The firestarters, which are made entirely of recycled materials, have become quite popular and are sold nationwide.

"It's just kind of taken off. We started making them about six years ago, but in the last couple years it has just exploded. Now it's kind of our signature product," said Ohman.

Workers at Lakestate also contract with other businesses in the community to do tasks that might be repetitive or less attractive to workers who do not have the same barriers to employment as the people served by Lakestate.

"We are always looking for other opportunities, and if somebody has a job that they're having a hard time filling, or a job that could be outsources here, we'd certainly be glad to look at it," said Ohman.

With an unemployment rate of 7.3 percent in Delta County, many people with barriers to employment are in need of assistance. Individuals who may not qualify for services through Pathways or Michigan Rehabilitation Services could still benefit from the services offered by Lakestate.

"The fundraiser really is for sustaining the future and for people who fell through the cracks ... We'd like to serve those people but it takes money to serve them," said Ohman.

To make a donation to the Lakestate Endowment Fund look for the blue envelope in Saturday's Daily Press.

For more information about Lakestate Industries, visit or call (906) 786-9212.



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