A Gateway to Opportunity

Organization provides services, helping hands
and benefits to its clients and their community

By Greg Seiter

Gateway Services of Johnson County exists for the sole purpose of helping people with disabilities. From employment assistance and daytime programming to community opportunities and mobility assistance through the Access Johnson County public transportation service, Gateway’s primary objective is to help individuals fully integrate into their communities, no matter the personal challenges they may be facing.

“When I first started working here 19 years ago, I hoped to be here just long enough to go back to school and get my master’s,” says Eve Pressnell-Moore, director of employment services. “Funny: I still don’t have that degree. I just fell in love with the people we serve. They are some of the most amazing people you will ever meet.”

Gary Kubancsek, who serves on Gateway’s board of directors, agrees. “My 23-year-old son, JJ, started receiving Gateway assistance when he was 6 months old and since that time has received almost every service they have ever provided,” he says. “I think the world of those folks.”

From its humble beginnings in 1963 as a small school program to what is now a United Way of Johnson County partnering agency accredited at the maximum level by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) International, Franklin-based Gateway is today a provider of services to those living in southern Marion and other neighboring counties as well.

“They are great community partners who provide wonderful services,” says Dana Monson, Johnson County Development Corp. interim executive director. “They 100 percent support other organizations as well.”

Gateway staff members, Pressnell-Moore says, are community cheerleaders, endeavoring to encourage and advocate for clients. “For those we assist, sometimes we’re their voice, while at other times we’re in the background reassuring them that they can do something,” she says.

Her department helps people find and maintain integrated jobs. As part of that program, an assigned job coach works with employment candidates to determine areas of interest, assist with resume development, sharpen communication and other work-related skills and ultimately secure an appropriate position.

“We have a pretty good working relationship with Gateway,” says William Wethington, manager of Chicago’s Pizza in Franklin. “If Gateway needs to do a skills assessment for someone they’re working with, they use us as a practice place to see what that person’s strengths and weaknesses are. Right now, we employ two of their folks.”

Gateway even helps young adults prepare for the process of finding their first job.

“We have a transitional group, generally for 16- to 22-year-olds, that helps people learn basic work skills they’ll need to prepare them for real life,” Pressnell-Moore says. “They do mock clock-in and clock-out sessions and go out into the community to volunteer.”

Sometimes, individuals are in need of daytime programming for instructional and recreational purposes. Gateway organizes groups that collectively learn about things such as food safety and preparation and the arts.

Another target area for Gateway is the enhancement of social skills. Many of the people served by Gateway aren’t able to visit with their peers, Pressnell-Moore says. For example, 20-somethings who would typically have opportunities to socialize; those who rely on parents or caregivers might not have many opportunities to hit the clubs. 

“Nobody wants to take their parents to a club, and conversely parents usually don’t want to sit at a club with their children,” Pressnell-Moore says. Gateway’s solution includes periodic nighttime shopping opportunities and social events. Through Gateway’s Aktion Club, an arm of Kiwanis, the organization offers bi-monthly parties with food and a live DJ.

And Gateway offers care to those who usually give it by providing respite services to caregivers, enabling them to enjoy personal time.

“When you have an adult child living with you at home, it can be very difficult to go out on a date, shop or even get away for a short vacation,” Pressnell-Moore says. “A lot of the services we provide are really geared toward helping the entire family. ”

Gateway can also provide economic assistance, deaf services and help for those striving to break free of disorders related to substance abuse. It should come as no surprise that Gateway’s diversified program offerings require an extensive budget, and unfortunately Pressnell-Moore admits that money is sometimes a challenge. She says many of the services provided by the organization are funded through vocational rehabilitation and Medicaid waivers, but there are still other hurdles to overcome.

“These are state-funded ways to get money; however, the reimbursement rate is much lower than the service provided,” she says. “As with any not-for-profit, we are underfunded, so any cuts really hurt us a lot.”

Therefore, beyond relying on donations from the community, Pressnell-Moore and her co-workers must be creative with their fundraising efforts. “We do a lemonade stand each year at the Johnson County Fair,” she says. “We also have a fashion show in which we partner with a boutique. It’s an integrated event but is heavy on the folks we serve.” This year’s fashion show, which includes brunch and an auction, is scheduled for Sept. 16 at Mount Pleasant Christian Church in Greenwood.

Gateway personnel are also busy looking toward the future. To be specific, according to Pressnell-Moore, the organization hopes to eventually extend the hours of operation for day services and potentially grow its existing young adult transition program through word-of-mouth and by achieving deeper penetration into area school systems. She also hopes that an increasing number of nearby employers will be willing to allow Gateway to refer people for employment opportunities. “To be honest, it’s hard to find employers who are open to that concept,” she says.

Wethington understands. “I think a lot of times, the community has a stigma that Gateway participants can’t take care of themselves. That’s not true,” he says. “These are great people with great work ethics. Sure, they may have a few hardships, but Gateway looks at those and helps people overcome their disadvantages.”

Despite the challenges and occasional setbacks, Pressnell-Moore remains passionate about Gateway and especially the people it serves.

“Any aspect of serving is hard work, but it’s also very rewarding,” she says. “You’re entwined in the lives of these people, so if they have a bad day, you have a bad day, too.”

Gateway has dramatically changed JJ Kubancsek’s life, but the organization has  had a powerful impact on his father as well.

“I’ve served on Gateway’s board for 20 years now and have been an officer almost all of that time,” Gary Kubancsek says. “Gateway stepped in and started guiding us almost from the time JJ was born, and I feel like I owe them a life debt. Gateway is my second family.”

Find more information about Gateway Services of Johnson County at gatewayarc.com.