It is proven that employment is the most lucrative way for all individuals to achieve independence and economic self-sufficiency. According to the National Council on Disability, only 32 percent of working-age people with disabilities are employed despite desire and willingness to work. This barely compares with the 73 percent of those without disabilities.

The countless barriers to joining the workforce for individuals with disabilities make the thought of obtaining a career very daunting. Many simply give up after unsuccessfully searching for a job; and for those that do persist, their options are often limited to jobs with low pay, few or no benefits and no career opportunities.

For over 15 years, Tobyhanna Army Depot has partnered with Burnley Employment and Rehab Services, a division of Allied Services Integrated Health System to help individuals overcome common misconceptions of working with a disability.

This partnership is through SourceAmerica, which is known for offering feel good business solutions by connecting customers to nonprofits who hire talented people with disabilities. Tobyhanna has a contract through the Federal AbilityOne Program, which was inspired by the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Act of 1971.

According to SourceAmerica's website, The AbilityOne Program is among the nation's largest providers of jobs for people who are blind or have significant disabilities. The Program uses the purchasing power of the Federal Government to buy products and services from participating nonprofit agencies that train and employ workers with disabilities, such as Burnley.

Burnley gives individuals with disabilities the opportunity to learn life and employment skills while earning a wage. Their program benefits businesses with a job well done, and their employees gain a sense of pride and accomplishment by becoming productive members of the region's workforce.

"The big picture is to create jobs for individuals who otherwise might not have the opportunity, solely due to their disability," said Bob Ames, vice president at Allied Services.

Tobyhanna has contracts with Allied Services/Burnley for a variety of jobs. The depot employs about 60 people who perform custodial and mailing services, as well as mission related support, such as preparing military systems for painting by applying masking material to protect areas not being painted. The only criteria, aside from the standard government background checks, is to be able to perform the duties of the position.

"I truly believe everyone is employable in some fashion," said Kim Benfer, a purchasing agent involved with the Tobyhanna-Burnley arrangement, adding that she is enthusiastic of being involved in a process that makes it easier for these individuals. Benfer's enthusiasm for the program lies in her close ties with an individual with disabilities that has dealt with the stigma of obtaining a job.

The depot's Systems Integration and Support Directorate hopes to increase their Burnley staff by up to 50 percent over the next year, according to the director, Paul Borosky.

"Not only do they do an exceptional job, it also allows Tobyhanna to continue supporting the community," Borosky added.