Any time of the year, swinging open the door at Kent-Sussex Industries’ enormous facility in Milford is bound to reveal a beehive of activity.
Since 1962, the company has been providing employment services for hundreds of disabled individuals in two counties.
Lewes’ Susie Dorow and Lincoln’s Derek Eliason are both thankful that they are among the 280 people who receive support and employment from KSI annually.
Dorow and Eliason both work in the remanufactured toner cartridge service department, where they refill around 90 different brands of printer cartridges.
“I came [to KSI] about two years after I graduated from [Milford] high school,” said Eliason, who is 20 years old. “I was just taking a little break until I decided I was ready [to work], and my mom said I had an interview coming up over here at KSI and I was like, ‘All right. I’m looking forward to it.’
“Working at KSI is fantastic. It’s my favorite thing, just to be back here working.”
Dorow, who moved to Delaware from Michigan five years ago with her sister and brother-in-law, tests the cartridges, puts them in boxes, seals them and puts labels on them.
Dorow said she likes so stay busy so this turned out to be the perfect job for her. Before going to work at KSI she volunteered for a year-and-a-half at the CHEER Center in Georgetown where she did laundry and ran the dishwasher.
Now she is proudly earning a paycheck.
“I like to keep busy,” said Dorow. “I used to make boxes, big ones and small ones, all different sizes. I fill the boxes and test the cartridges.
“I stay busy. The KSI bus picks me up at 5:30 in the morning and I get home after 6.”
The work isn’t limited to toner cartridge department.
Some employees start out by putting products together for industrial equipment companies like Fastenal, while others could be boxing and stacking pallets of bottles together for Fordham and Old Dominion Brewing Co. in Dover. The list of products the company manages is quite diverse.
Employees are paired with supervisors who work closely with them and determine when they’re ready to advance to another position.
Alicia Hollis, KSI director of community relations, said the toner cartridge department is kind of like “graduation” for many of its employees who begin with small tasks and then build up to the more challenging department.
There are also many employees who eventually are bussed out of the Milford facility and work at a wide variety of businesses throughout Kent and Sussex, among them Kraft Foods and Proctor & Gamble.
“Everybody has their individual plan,” Hollis said. “One might say, ‘I want to go to Proctor & Gamble,’ and in order to do that they have to get to where they can stand for eight hours a day. We’ll start with maybe a half hour standing a day for a week and build them up. It’s all individual-centered.”
Participants are referred by agencies such as the Division of Developmental Disabilities Services, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Division for the Visually Impaired, Veterans Administration and various school districts.
Eliason, who is in charge of refilling the toner cartridges, is glad his mother Missy pointed him towards KSI.
“I just enjoy everything about being at KSI,” he said. “I really enjoy working with all of the people here. They helped me get to where I am now. They saw me when I was new and I didn’t know what to do, but they helped me out to where I’m at now today.”
Eliason has a dream of one day becoming a railroad engineer. He relishes the chances he gets to go and see the trains when they come through Harrington.
As for Dorow, she is happy where she’s at – just as long as she’s keeping busy. She was Employee of the Third Quarter in 2013.
“That was real nice,” Dorow said. “Everybody had a real nice time [at a celebratory dinner] and I gave a little speech to thank everybody at KSI for helping me out.”
Hollis, meanwhile, said she plays just a small role in what KSI is all about. It bears the motto “Embrace Abilities.”
“I have my deadlines in my office and there are projects that I work on, but for me I get to do the bragging about the agency,” Hollis said. “These guys all come in and those supervisors help guide and teach the people that we’re here for. That’s what makes this such a special place.”