Agency helps people with disabilities find jobs

April 28, 2011 10:08:05 AM PDT
For over 60 years, SouthStar Services has been in the business of providing various services to people with disabilities in Chicago's south suburbs.

They consider themselves a "hidden gem." SouthStar Services' No. 1 goal is getting people with disabilities employed.

"We try to get people jobs, whether it's here in our facility, or whether it's in the community," said SouthStar CEO Dan Stick. "We consider volunteering to be a form of employment."

Regardless of an individual's abilities, Stick says there is something for everyone.

"We have great partnership with St. James Hospital right in our own community," said Stick. "We have volunteers that go there, about 20 volunteers every week. We work a lot with local employers like Jewel grocery store, Culver's restaurants."

SouthStar's main facility is located in Chicago Heights.

"We service about 500 people on any given day," said Stick. "There's about 300 people here in our main facility and then there's about 200 people or so out in the community. About 98 percent of the people we serve are developmentally disabled."

Self advocacy is another area that this organization takes seriously.

Thirty-year-old Melissa Regan is an advocate leader.

"I go down to Springfield and advocate for people's freedom and rights about the budget cuts," said Melissa. "We tell them that we like it here and that we want more jobs and more money."

Melissa Regan has been part of SouthStar for 10 years, according to her father, Michael.

"Mainly, the fact that she has become very independent in her living status, she does reside with us and very confident in the things that she does do," Michael said.

Like most service providers, SouthStar is worried about the future.

"The state is very late in paying us right now," said Stick. "They owe us about a million and half dollars, so that creates some serious issues for us as far as managing our cash, resetting priorities. We've had to cut back on some services, cut back on some staff, but hopefully we'll be able to get through this together."

And hopefully this will never derail Melissa's dreams.

"Ten years from now I would like to be certified in early childhood and have my own daycare," said Melissa.

For more information on SouthStar Services, go to