COLORADO SPRINGS - Turning junk into an opportunity is all in a day's work at Blue Star Recyclers.
For Leigh Schilling, her opportunity came with the sound of a screwdriver and some old computer parts no one wanted anymore.
"I can do 80, my record is 175. I love taking apart hard drives," Schilling said, "I think it's like one big puzzle. I love it."
Every day, there's a goal at Blue Star Recyclers. She's never missed it.
"I always try to outdo my record every single time," Schilling said.
It's the end of another day of work for the Colorado Springs resident.
Like so many other days, she has crushed the bar set for her, breaking down so many hard drives she hit 131 percent of her goal.
This is the first paying job she's ever had.
"People with developmental disabilities have about 90-percent unemployment. They just don't get a chance to even interview for jobs," Bill Morris, CEO of Blue Star Recyclers, said.
He wants to change that.
"We literally can turn junk into an opportunity," Morris said.
It wasn't as though Bill Morris had a dream to start a recycling company, but he had a dream of making a real difference in the lives of families of people with disabilities.
"Generally we see the negative aspects of autism, but autism has attributes like a propensity for systematic work, procedural work, repetitive tasks," Morris said.
So, he created Blue Star Recyclers. Those skills are precisely what's needed to break down hard drives, computers, and other old, unwanted electronics.
"There's a spectrum of people within the autism spectrum who can do this work," Morris said.
Run like a business, Blue Star Recyclers is a non-profit located in Colorado Springs.
His only regret about starting the company, which has increased its productivity 30-percent each year since its inception nearly six years ago, is that he underestimated his work force.
Leigh Schilling says she feels appreciated here.
"To have people actually encourage you in a workplace makes me very, very grateful for that. I wish more people could be like that," she said.
Morris' employees become taxpayers themselves, earning income and something more valuable: self worth.
He says each person he employs offsets $15,000 in taxpayer dollars for public assistance.
'What they've done in the last five years is prove to us they want exactly the same thing you and I do. They want to come to work and be part of a winning team, they want to be given responsibility, they want to add value," Morris said.
Seventeen of 25 Blue Star employees have a disability. Nine of them are on the autism spectrum..
They recycle 250,000 pounds of electronics a month.
"Yes, we all have disabilities, but we don't let them get in our way. I have a disability; I'm going to get on with my life," Schilling said.
In it's nearly six-year existence, Blue Star Recyclers has saved six million pounds of unwanted electronics.
All because Morris believed in opportunity.
"In six years we've had no turnover, no absenteeism, no lost time accidents. And that's unheard of in any industry," Morris said.
It's unlikely. But for Morris and his wife, Blue Star Recyclers is working.
And working with wasted junk puts talent that's usually wasted, to work.
"I get to take apart stuff. Not many people get to say they take apart stuff for fun," Schilling said, stacking dozens of completed recycled hard-drives neatly in a box.
Blue Star Recyclers plans to expand their operation to Denver in the fall. Morris says he is currently recruiting staff for that facility.
For more information, visit: http://www.bluestarrecyclers.com/
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