Julia Trostel endured 150 interviews and filled three suitcases with rejection slips before she found a job at the Inland Northwest Lighthouse.
Thursday, she and 12 other blind workers, their six sighted co-workers and dozens of family members, friends and public officials gathered outside a former Tidyman’s store on North Addison Street to dedicate a new Lighthouse facility that supporters hope will eventually employ 40.
The operation is an offshoot of the Seattle-based Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc., whose president, Kirk Adams, said the opening is just the start of an effort to employ not just the blind, but the hearing-impaired, as well.
“Our philosophy is one of providing each employee with whatever supports are necessary for success in the workplace,” he said.
Trostel, who has degrees from Spokane Falls Community College and Eastern Washington University, said the support does not come from the top alone.
“My co-workers are Olympians in the sport of life,” she told the crowd. “We help each other every chance we get.”
Manufacturing equipment inside the plant was provided by ACCO Brands Corp., which markets the whiteboards, file cases and other goods produced by Lighthouse to the military and government agencies.
President Bob Morris said the blind are among the nation’s great untapped labor resources.
ACCO has been pleased with the quality of the Lighthouse products, he said, and expects to add other office supply lines in the future.
“This is an investment that will have long-term benefits,” Morris said.
Kevin Lynch, president of National Industries for the Blind, presented Adams with a $40,000 check, the second installment of a grant intended to encourage more geographic distribution of facilities that hire the blind, 70 percent of whom are unemployed.
Adams said the help of ACCO and National Industries for the Blind was critical to the Spokane expansion.
Mark Shively joined Trostel in expressing his thanks for an opportunity that had eluded him as his sight deteriorated.
“It’s been a long journey,” he said. “It feels really, really good.”