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 user 2009-02-13 at 3:40:40 pm Views: 71
  • #21802

    Woman with disabilities finds niche with toner, ink mirco-enterprise
    One day a week, Leah Karlon shines like a rock star. The Superior High School graduate wheels into her alma mater every Friday — not as a visitor — but to do her job.
    “When she comes in here to deliver cartridges she just lights up,” said Leah’s father, Rick Karlon.Leah provides toner and ink cartridges for SHS printers and copy machines through her business, Leah’s Special Services. “She supplies the whole school,” said Julie Urban, school secretary. “There’s probably 50 printers.”

    The service is good; the price competitive, according to Urban.“When I order, I typically order from her,” she said.The micro-enterprise business began months after Leah, who is challenged by cerebral palsy, received her diploma last spring. The Superior woman is confined to a wheelchair and uses a DynaVox to assist with communication.“When she left school, that last day, all of us stood there and cried,” Rick said. “We wondered how we would replace all the school district provided.”“She’s a very aware young lady and a very intelligent, capable young lady,” said SHS psychologist Dana Parask. “It would be very unfortunate if she just went home.”For 16 years, the school district had provided the assistance Leah needed to be productive — including a para-educator and case manager. After graduation, she faced an up to 10-year waiting list for similar state services to assist her transition into adulthood.“Without basic assistance from the Community Options Program she was poised to sit at home,” Rick said. “It’s a sad prospect to have her just sitting, no stimulus of laughing, talking, seeing other people.”Although programs like the Challenge Center and Superior Vocations Center provide work opportunities to many adults with disabilities, they weren’t viable options for 21-year-old Leah.“Without assistance, there’s absolutely nowhere she could go,” Rick said, although Leah is able to attend the vocations center for brief periods of time.He and his wife, Dawn, began looking for alternatives. They attended seminars and meetings to gather information on micro-enterprise. Since no program fit Leah, she followed in the footsteps of both parents and became self-employed.“Dawn and I had to pick something from either her world (Lifestyle Pilates) or my world (Great Lakes Office Solutions), Rick said. “We chose something from my world.”Leah’s Special Services, launched last fall, focuses on Leah’s strengths — her people skills, intelligence and office experience. She had worked as a runner for the SHS office when she attended school there.“We’re trying to create something that gives her a sense of independence and that she enjoys,” said Leah’s mother, Dawn.“But it has to be viable,” Rick said.

    The micro-enterprise gives Leah both social interaction and a sense of purpose.
    “It was built for Leah, with Leah in mind,” Dawn said, and they hope it can someday expand to include more young adults like their daughter.Many parents don’t have the resources to launch a business for their child. But Leah’s story gives new hope.“She hasn’t waited for services,” said Linda Burhans, independent living specialist with North Country Independent Living (NCIL). “She’s gone ahead and done it despite a lack of services.”“She has success,” said Scott Anderson, benefits specialist for NCIL. “Why can’t others?”

    Both the city of Superior and Douglas County departments are considering contracting with Leah’s Special Services.“It meets a business need,” said Superior Mayor Dave Ross, and “it meets the need of those that are disabled. They don’t need to be sidelined. They can be involved.”The Karlon family met their challenges head-on by providing a market-based solution, Ross said.County Administrator Steve Koszarek said he was impressed with the family’s innovative, get-up-and-go approach. While the county has to get best price for the taxpayers, Koszarek said, “We would certainly like to use Leah’s services.”If Leah can get enough contracts, she will be able to employ a co-worker/aid of her choosing, not mom and dad.

    Leah’s smile as she delivered a cartridge to Urban recently told its own story. She envisions aqua uniforms for the business and looks forward to expanding its reach beyond her friends at SHS. Like the Taylor Swift song, “Just a Girl,” Leah is “a girl trying to find a place in the world,” Rick said.This family isn’t waiting for government help. They hope the community will support Leah’s Special Services like SHS has.“This already is a success story,” Rick said. “She can’t wait for Friday to go to the school district account.”