In his 13 years as a social worker and care manager for the disabled population, Greg Maloney of Green Bay saw the need for a program that would develop higher functioning adults.
He had worked with various groups, but felt that his strength was in helping those with mental illness to find community employment and move out on their own. As he developed programs and saw results, he also felt frustration that he didn’t have the flexibility to do more.
“I thought about starting a business for about six years,” Maloney said. “When I met with a disabled adult for the first time, I would gather details on where they were currently in their life. After that, I tried to create a plan that would help them create their own desires in life.”
But he found that most of the providers and caregivers focused on the status quo. They helped with day-to-day needs, but did not go beyond that to help a disabled person become more independent.
Maloney thought he could fill that gap. In 2017, he put a plan in motion. He met with David Stauffacher, business counselor with the Small Business Development Center at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and worked on a business plan.
“The most challenging part of the plan was determining timelines and revenue projections,” Maloney said. “There were a lot of unknown factors in starting this business because everything was new.”
He had previous business experience years earlier when he owned a residential rental business, but this was nothing like that. His concern was learning the administrative and financial aspects. He also had a major decision to make on whether to be a nonprofit or for-profit business.
“I know I will never be wealthy,” he said. “Being nonprofit would have provided the benefit of being able to do fundraising, but I wanted to have less of the paperwork that would be required. I’m in business to work directly in helping individuals rather than doing administrative work.”
Late in 2017, Promoting Abilities, LLC, was formed. Maloney’s decision to locate at the Startup Hub, a program of the economic development arm of the Greater Green Bay Chamber, proved to be ideal. Maloney met the owner of Badger Window Cleaning there, and not only considered him to be a mentor, but he also went to work for him part-time as he established his business. There were other perks, as well.
“The Startup Hub has been wonderful,” Maloney said. “I would challenge anyone to find a more cost-effective option as a startup. They have had a direct connection to my overall success with top-notch amenities and free mentoring and consultation.”
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The growth of Promoting Abilities has been great, and by October 2018, Maloney was able to quit his other jobs and work full time at his business. He said it was a “leap of faith experience” that paid off. The relationships he made earlier in his career also helped and he gained referrals from other companies to fill openings.
The program is set up to take up to eight participants a day, and although he has a program assistant and has additional staff starting next month, Maloney prefers to be directly involved. He says his gift is working with people and that his goal is different from most providers.
“I have individual plans, and my program is designed to help participants to develop to the point where they no longer need my support,” he said. “There is always going to be a starting point and ending point. Competitors try to keep them at the same level, but I am trying to work myself out of a job.”
He does that by focusing on retraining disabled adults from having others taking care of everything to them slowly transitioning into that role. He points to his success rates and says that 100% of graduates achieved community employment, are able to use public transit and have improved their money skills. Of his current participants, five will be moving into an apartment setting in the next month and six or seven will be employed.
“Those are huge milestones that every adult needs,” he added.
Promoting Abilities addresses the issues that can seem overwhelming—areas such as using a bus, working full time or living on their own. These hurdles are met with success, and for some, college becomes an option they would have never dreamed of earlier.
Maloney encourages personal growth with two options. Those include a day program with skill-building including grocery shopping, physical activity, money and time management, team building, interviewing, problem-solving, meal preparation and planning, and more. There is also supportive home care that is offered one-on-one to help develop independence at home and in the community.
The rewards for participants and Maloney have been huge. At the completion of the program, every participant, guardian and care manager has said they would refer individuals to the program. For Maloney, it has been personal.
“It’s the greatest feeling getting to that point where participants are able to overcome what others told them they weren’t capable of doing,” Maloney said. “To see them not only do it, but to exceed their expectations, such as getting that job or apartment, or going to college, is incredible.”
Additional information is available at www.promotingabilities.com.
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.