News, Politics, and Culture for the Southern Finger Lakes

Lightening over Keuka by Robert Scharf

Chris Koehler Presents “Arc History” at Annual Meeting

Author: Share:

Koehler has been with the transformative agency since 1983

From the Arc Allegany-Steuben,

WELLSVILLE, NY – Chris Koehler, The Arc Allegany-Steuben’s Director of Business Operations, was the guest speaker at the agency’s Annual Meeting in late May. The consummate professional, Chris celebrated 40 years of service in 2023 and charmed people as he spoke from the heart not just about his time at the Arc, but the history of services for people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) in general.  

Chris Koehler started at Allegany Arc in 1983 as the Sales and Marketing Manager.  When he started, he was one of 30 employees.  Chris said of his early time at the agency, “Despite limited resources, the organization was fueled by the passion of its founders, advocates, and its actively engaged staff.”  Chris shared how he was inspired by genuine advocacy, the strong sense of mission, and the close-knit sense of community among staff. 

While Chris now oversees several businesses and assists in placing employees in community jobs, for years he oversaw the agency’s Sheltered Workshops.  The first workshop opened in 1974 – TREE (Workshop Training, Rehabilitation, Education and Experience). In 1977 TREE moved to South Hall on the Alfred University Campus and was renamed Piece Work Industries. Chris said when he started the primary work activities were a next-to-new shop named GOODIES, GADGETS and GARMENTS, mailing services for Alfred University and local banks and a summer lawn mowing service. Chris shared his initial responsibility was to increase business to create further vocational training and work-for-pay opportunities.  PWI soon opened a wood shop that offered custom made storm windows, picnic tables and surveying stakes and then opened a furniture stripping and refinishing business that grew to be the largest in the region. In 1984, Piece Work Industries rebranded as PWI and began work with Morrison Knudsen in Hornell. This led to a 40-year relationship as a supplier in the passenger rail car business that continues today with Alstom Transportation. In 1987, PWI relocated to the Walter Babbitt Building in Wellsville. As the need for vocational services for adults with I/DD continued to increase, PWI opened the Edward Antoon Building in 1989. Six years later the “Raptis” Building opened. At its peak, PWI had a certified capacity of 130 slots and a continuous waiting list for services.

“I’m proud of the essential role our PWI Vocational Work Centers played for adults with I/DD, we provided employment, skill development, and social interaction at a time when mainstream employment systems were not equipped to accommodate people with I/DD.  We addressed the immediate needs of the times and laid the groundwork for the evolving understanding of the disabilities rights and inclusive practices,” said Chris.  In 2013, the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) eliminated funding for any new workshop admissions and PWI fully embraced the movement towards more inclusive employment practices and the rights of people with disabilities to work in integrated settings.  Chris continued, “We fully support paying people with I/DD minimum wage and above; closing our work centers reflected our commitment to equality, inclusion, and economic participation for people with I/DD.”  Chris noted how rewarding it was to see the change enhancing quality of life, independence, and social inclusion for people with I/DD.  The jobs created provided the opportunity for increasing self-sufficiency in community living, interpersonal relationships, and in financial independence.   

Chris said social enterprise businesses he oversees now employ 58 people with disabilities and include:

  • Pro Clean Solutions, a full-service contract cleaning company with 38 years of experience. Serving the Allegany and Steuben County region.
  • PWI, offering kitting, packaging, inventory management and contract manufacturing. In addition to custom DNA and Evidence Collection kits for criminal justice and investigative departments.
  • Stitched INK, a full-service custom apparel decorating shop specializing in screen-printing and embroidery services – providing high-quality, customized apparel solutions to a diverse clientele, including businesses, colleges/universities, government, and community organizations.

As for Chris’s advice to other businesses on the importance of hiring people with I/DD, Chris shared, “Inclusion of people with I/DD in the workforce promotes diversity and brings unique perspectives and talents to the workplace. Employees with I/DD can serve as role models to other employees and improve overall morale – benefiting employers and society as a whole.” Chris said he looks forward to a true eureka of a future where adults with I/DD can lead fulfilling, independent, and truly integrated lives.

Previous Article

How Houghton’s Phil Stockin got Cazzie Russell to speak at the Castle Restaurant in Olean

Next Article

3D Tomosynthesis mammograms now available at Noyes Health in Geneseo

You may also like