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 user 2009-02-13 at 3:41:17 pm Views: 40
  • #21440
    Woman with disabilities finds niche with toner, ink mirco-enterprise
    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

    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.
    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.”