Tournament chairs Mark Ianni, Robert Levin and Les Wagner (foreground) flank Life Skills president Wendy Sullivan at the Falcon Diner at Ameristar Casino Resort and Spa.

Living with a disability is challenging enough on a daily basis. And for many people who have disabilities, trying to find stable and fulfilling work can be a monumental task. That’s where Life Skills steps in, advocating for thousands of the 100,000-plus Missourians with developmental disabilities. Last year, the organization aided more than 1,400 individuals and their families, enhancing their lives through meaningful employment. While there are countless success stories at Life Skills, the need never stops, according to president Wendy Sullivan, who says the organization recently expanded into St. Charles County. Sullivan says the organization is also seeing different groups of people who need services, specifically the rising population of persons with autism. “There are more and more adults being diagnosed with autism, so we’re working with an increasing number of individuals who are affected by it,” she says. “About 80 percent of new clients who’ve come to us this year have been diagnosed with some form of autism.”

Despite the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act almost 20 years ago, Sullivan says the unemployment rate for people with disabilities remains at about 68 percent. But with its new Partners @ Work program, funded through United Way, Life Skills hopes to do its part to close the gap. “One of the things we’re implementing is the use of a corporate job marketer who is responsible for talking with local corporations and businesses, trying to get doors open for people with disabilities,” she explains. “It’s all about educating business leaders and executives about the possibilities.”

Sullivan says the greatest barrier is still discrimination. “It’s not intentional or malicious; it just comes from a lack of understanding and exposure to this segment of the population,” she says. Many businesses, for one reason or another, believe that hiring a person with special needs will mean increased costs or unreasonable accommodations, she says. “All we ask is the business be willing to talk to our job developer about their specific needs and concerns,” Sullivan explains. “We also have our job coaches on the ready who are there to help guide workers if any issues or concerns come up, and they’re available to be at the job site, free to the employer.”

Sullivan attributes part of Life Skills’ success to its staffers, who collectively have a range of expertise to help individuals reach their potential. Staff members include social workers, career counselors and community liaisons to help clients with everything from job training to living independently. “We really pride ourselves on having the right amount of staff to do the job and knowing the specific needs of each of our clients,” she says.

Life Skills is getting ready for its 23rd annual golf tournament and dinner auction on Monday, July 21, at Meadowbrook Country Club, featuring a ‘50s theme, ‘Drive and Dine.’ Due to its popularity last year, a morning round will also be available this year. Early bird registration begins at 6:30 a.m., with shotgun start at 7:15 a.m. This year’s sponsors include B&B Footwear (patron), Mark and Kathy Ianni (corporate), and Dave Mungenast Lexus and Lexus Champions for Charity (hole-in-one).