Help wanted? Centerforce has been placing South Sound workers for 52 years


By Debby Graham 
Guest Columnist

A group of parents in 1968 believed there was more out there for their children with disabilities after they graduated from the school system. At the time, finding employment was not an easy task so instead they decided to create their own workforce.

It started with teaching crafts and basic living skills in a local church basement. In 1971, this group of parents launched the nonprofit Pacific Care Center as an alternative. Eventually, they moved their focus to doing production and assembly work, starting a sheltered workshop program. Programs and services have shifted over the years to focus on individual employment to meet the societal and economic needs of individuals with disabilities.Today, Centerforce serves more than 200 people in Pierce, South King and Thurston counties by providing employment, education and inclusive social opportunities. 

Helping South Sound residents with developmental disabilities find employment is one of our greatest challenges. It’s also a tremendous opportunity for employers, particularly in this tight job market. After identifying the type of skills and interests that workers have, we match them up with employers in need. You could call us your job matchmakers! 

Arshelle, a Centerforce client, is a wonderful success story. She has been working at The Ram on Ruston for the past year. Centerforce’s team of employment professionals worked directly with The Ram to develop a position that met Arshelle’s interests and The Ram’s needs. We helped Arshelle fill out the application and prepare for the interview, which can be barriers to employment for people with developmental disabilities. Arshelle nailed the interview and was hired.

Will, a day manager at The Ram on Ruston, said the work Arshelle and other Centerforce workers do is an invaluable help. “They do all of the details that we may overlook and sometime don’t have time for. It is a huge service to us.” 

People with disabilities are an untapped and dependable labor force waiting for a chance to show what they can do. All of our clients earn at least minimum wage or greater. October is also National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which Centerforce is proud to support.   

“My job means a lot to me. This is my first job and it took a while to get it,” Arshelle said. “(My job developer) has worked really hard to find me a job that I can really do.”  

Arshelle said she has gained self-esteem, independence in the community and become more outgoing. She is a valued and dedicated employee at The Ram. It truly is a win-win situation, one that we hope can be repeated again and again.

If your company is in need of employees, Centerforce could be the solution. We’d love to talk about opportunities. You can find us at or on Facebook (@CenterforceLakewood).

Even if we can’t make an employment match, there are many ways that your company can support Centerforce. We are looking to expand our board of directors and would love more involvement from our local residents and employers. Other ways to help include financial donations, sponsorship or attending our annual fundraising event(Save the date: May 1, 2020!). 

Debby Graham is the executive director of Centerforce, a nonprofit in Lakewood, Washington, that provides employment services and social outings to adults with developmental disabilities. Contact her at

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