In the mid 1950’s a number of volunteer agencies in Union County became concerned that no organization existed to provide employment opportunities for citizens with limited work skills that restricted their entry into the private sector job market. This "citizens group" was people with disabilities. A consortium of social service agencies- The Tuberculosis League, Mental Health Association of Union County, Cerebral Palsy Association, several chapters of the National Council of Jewish Women and Union County Association of Retarded Children- united with other residents of the county in 1957 to formulate a plan. Two years later, on March 3st, 1959, the Occupational Center of Union County was incorporated in the State of New Jersey with the purpose of providing vocational training and sheltered employment for the area’s disabled population.
The occupational center activities began in April 1959 on the second floor of a store front building located at 1180 East Grand Street in Elizabeth. Four disabled consumers and one staff person, Dean Garwood (pictured above), operated out of a 3900 square foot area. The first contract account was Thomas & Betts who provided defective electrical fitting assemblies for sorting and salvage. By the end of 1962 the consumer population had grown to 57 and more space was needed.
In May of 1963, the Occupational Center moved to 600 Fulton Street in Elizabeth into 17,500 square feet of space. Volunteer labor was used to renovate the building. The consumer population continued to grow and by the end of 1966 we had 179 with a staff of 13. Once again the space became a problem and the search began for larger quarters.
In mid-1967, the Occupational Center relocated to 200 Elmora Avenue in Elizabeth , leasing 15,000 square feet in a very large industrial complex owned at the time by American Founders Corporation. The five year lease was not renewed by the landlord, but the space was offered in another building in the same industrial complex. By the end of 1972, the center was serving a consumer population of 228 in its Elizabeth facility and a small satellite on the grounds of the John E. Runnells Hospital in Berkeley Heights.
Presently, Inroads is located in the Roselle Industrial Park on Cox Street in a total of three buildings with 75,000 square feet of space. In order to meet the changing needs of more individuals with disabilities, Inroads added a mental health program in 1982. This provides services to adults with serious and chronic mental illness in a partial care and day program model currently funded by Medicaid.
Some of the most recent additions have been a computer laboratory, a cashier-training program and a school-to-work transition program for high school students developed on 2007. In addition, a joint collaboration between Shop Rite (Wakefern Corp.) and the Center, was developed. This retail component, called Market Central, provides a convenience store atmosphere, as well as retail training opportunities, which culminates in job placement in the labor market. In the fifty two years, since the first small group of individuals with disabilities came to work at Inroads, the program has grown and began an active job placement component. Beginning in 2008, we have held each year following a Summer Program for our Transition students which continues the path of education and work related experience for those involved. Inroads has also become a subcontract packaging company that continues to provide real work opportunities. The total number of job placements from the past fiscal year was 29, 10 of which went into the LTFA program. We have cultivated strong placement availabilities at ShopRite, Kona Grill, Sam’s Club, Applebees, Banana Republic and A&P to name a few. To support these programs, Inroads is dependent on a few stakeholders with limited funding availability. Our social enterprises rely on client business which has been impacted by the economic slow-down.
Most of our participants are referred from the New Jersey Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, the various school districts of the county, New Jersey psychiatric hospitals and from other community agencies. Also, Inroads has membership with ACCSES, NJ statewide vocational services association, as well as New Jersey Association of Mental Health agencies.
Inroads is approved by the NJ Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, the NJ Division of Developmental Disabilities, and the NJ Division of Mental Health. We are licensed and certified yearly by the Department of Agriculture for operating an Adult Food Care Program. Additionally, our vocational and mental health programs are accredited by C.A.R.F. (Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities), an international accreditation organization.