Orion's non-profit side provides job training for the disabled

Seattle resident Eric Minkes has received job training with Orion for the past seven months. Minkes hopes to enter into a career as a machinist once he has completed his training. In the past, substance abuse and other disabilities kept Minkes from holding a steady job. - Jacinda Howard/The Mirror
Seattle resident Eric Minkes has received job training with Orion for the past seven months. Minkes hopes to enter into a career as a machinist once he has completed his training. In the past, substance abuse and other disabilities kept Minkes from holding a steady job.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard/The Mirror

From the outside, Orion appears like any other Federal Way warehouse, but inside, life-changing transitions occur daily.

Like many businesses along 9th Avenue South, the Orion building is marked by work bays, concrete floors and machinery. Orion is in the business of fabricating metal parts for the aerospace, defense, medical and marine industries. The twist: Revenue goes directly toward supporting individuals with disabilities. Job training and placement is provided through a non-profit side of the corporation.

For profit business

Orion was established in 1957 when a group of Boeing employees began a woodworking operation in the basement of a Renton church, said Kathy Powers, Orion director of rehabilitation services. The group wished to see its children with disabilities establish careers, she said. That wish grew into a company that produces approximately $8 million worth of manufactured goods annually. Boeing is now a major customer.

Orion issues competitive bids. The company is awarded projects based on its performance and ability to meet a customer's needs. Many of Orion's customers do not initially know the business also operates a non-profit venture, Powers said.

"We're not selling the disability end of it," she said.

Non-profit assistance

The revenue garnered helps participants clear hurdles that prevent them from working full time. Orion assists individuals of varying ages. Participants' disabilities include learning, mental, attention deficit, autism, vision and hearing, orthopedic and former substance abuse. The non-profit aims to overcome the bias that comes with the disabled label.

"I think people conjure lots of visions of what disabled means," Powers said.

The men and women are typically referred by a partner agency, such as a school district or Washington State Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. A counselor, one-on-one interaction, introductions to several work atmospheres and vocational testing help staff determine what job a participant will most enjoy and be best equipped to perform, Powers said.

On-the-job training for several positions in the manufacturing, clerical and telephone services industries are offered. The men and women contribute to fabricating metal parts in the on-site shop. Others operate out of the call center, collecting donations for Washington law enforcement.

Participants spend an average of six months learning new skills before they either land a job or figure out they are not yet ready to become part of the working world. From start to finish, the process is defined by personal growth and a desire to hold a steady job. A participant's ability to show up to work as scheduled, and his or her attitude, determines how beneficial Orion's services are, Powers said.

Starting over

Seattle resident Eric Minkes, 30, is a perfect example of Orion's successes. From age 14 to 27, Minkes steadily graduated from one substance to another until his battle with alcohol abruptly hit home.

"It took me to lose everything for me to recognize what was going on," Minkes said.

Minkes has trained for a job, ideally as a machinist, at Orion for seven months. Staff is assisting him in landing an apprenticeship.

His work at Orion is the only long-term job he's held, Minkes said. Completing paperwork, maintaining eye contact and interviewing, along with his substance abuse, kept Minkes from holding employment in the past, he said. He came to Orion to change that.

"I knew I didn't want to be a grunt the rest of my life," Minkes said.

He shows up to work every day. He keeps a positive attitude. He easily assembles parts and contributes wherever he can. Minkes' confidence radiates. He's knowledgeable and comfortable in his surroundings.

"I'm willing to do whatever it takes," Minkes said.

Learn more

• Orion assisted 220 participants in 2008

• Of those, 53 located employment

• The company recently opened a customer relations service and training center

• Thirty percent of participants are ages 18-21

• Roughly 30 percent have a history of substance abuse, often paired with another disability

• In 2008, 30 percent of participants had neurological impairments

• Last year, 26 percent had psychiatric impairments

• Orion places participants locally

• Contact Orion at (253) 661-7805 or view the Web site at

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 28
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates