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"PBS NewsHour Weekend" Feature - Ecoworks

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  • Jennifer Gibson
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Recycling can do more than help the environment. The daily crunch of crushing cardboard and buzz of paper shredders are the sounds of a therapeutic normalcy for a group in Jonesboro. “Recycling was chosen to employ our residents because there’s not a lot of cost in startup to recycling. And in addition to that, we wanted to do something to benefit the community and to benefit the environment,” says Ecoworks director LaKisha Miller.

Ecoworks is a recycling and packaging business created and run by Jonesboro Human Development Center (JHDC), a facility which houses people with disabilities. The residents are the workers and, according to Miller, they enjoy it.

Ecoworks employee

“Monday mornings, they come in with a smile on their face. They come in ready to work, and they’re just proud to have a job. They’re proud to be appreciated for the work that they do, and that makes all the difference in treatment.”

Chris Holden has been a resident at the JHDC since 1987. His mother Gloria Holden says he loves working at Ecoworks because it's a job he's capable of doing well. “He has a gait problem, and he’s not real verbal. He enjoys what he does, because that’s something that he’s good at. Because of his gait, I don’t know if he could do something else.”

Ecoworks interior

The business received an upgrade in December when it opened a new building, allowing the team to increase their business and hire more workers. This isn't a lucrative business for the center, though. The profit goes to pay the workers, and many of them make minimum wage or more.

This is not the only recycling center in Arkansas that employs people with disabilities. Pinewood Village Recycling in Bradley County, run by Southeast Arkansas Human Development Center, collects recycling in Southeast Arkansas on a smaller scale, employing about 25 percent of their maximum 104 residents.

Ecoworks Exterior

Eighty residents of JHDC are employed at Ecoworks, which is currently collecting about 30,000 pounds of recyclable material per month from 57 community partners in Northeast Arkansas.

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