MARINE CORPS LOGISTIC BASE ALBANY, GA --
Most people strive to be independent, but independence doesn't always come easy. For individuals with disabilities the struggle for independence can be a tough battle.
Through state funded programs three individuals on base own their own businesses and are independent.
Kathryn H. Estes, a Lafayette Ala., native, has managed the Bldg. 3500 snack bar for 22 years. Estes, who is blind, is able to own and manage her snack bar through the Georgia Department of Labor's Vocational Rehabilitation Program for the Blind.
The Vocational Rehabilitation Program provides assistance to people who are legally blind. The program offers blind individuals job opportunities and assists them in establishing their own businesses.
Valerie Walker managed the snack bar inside the Maintenance Center for 2 1/2 years and has been with the Georgia Cooperative Services for the Blind for 12 years.
"The rehabilitation program is great," said Walker, a Douglas, Ga., native. "It helps you start your business and provides you initial stock, so you don't need a lot of money to get started."
The Vocational Rehabilitation Program trains individuals in how to operate and maintain a small business. Once trained, the individual receives help from the program to get the business started and is assisted in setting up the snack bar site lease and purchasing the initial supplies. However, the manager decides which products to sell and what the prices will be.
The program also provides counselors who assist the managers when they need help with business decisions. The counselors periodically check on the managers to make sure their businesses are successful.
Al Belin, business enterprise counselor for the state of Georgia, assists the three snack bar managers on base. As a counselor, Belin supervises when a manager hires repairmen, he said. Belin also makes sure that the managers are selling products customers want to ensure they make a profit.
"I make sure whoever is hired fixes what's broken and that they don't overcharge," said Belin. "When you are blind, some folks try to take advantage of you, and I make sure that doesn't happen here."
The state of Georgia funds 20 percent of the rehabilitation program and the federal government provides the other 80 percent. The program is free to the blind. About 105 Georgia snack bar facilities are currently operated by blind business owners.
Once the individuals have their own facilities, the Georgia Cooperative Program for the Blind assists them. The snack bar manager pays the program a monthly fee, which pays for renovations to the facility and for servicing equipment. The program handles all financial situations for the individual, so the blind business owner has one less thing to worry about.
William N. Roach, Moultrie, Ga., native and Bldg. 3700 snack bar manager, has been with the services for the blind since November 1988. Roach was referred to the program when Georgia's Department of Human Resources declared him legally blind.
"The program makes you totally self-sufficient," said Roach. "You're classified as an independent businessperson. You receive no federal funding.
"The inventory that's in this store," said Roach as he pointed to his shelves stocked with goodies, "was purchased out of my pocket."
Blind business entrepreneurs are aided by the Randolph-Shepard Act, which was adopted by Congress in 1936. It authorizes blind vendors to operate vending facilities on federal property. The act mandates that any federal office building that wants a snack bar, must offer it first to people in the rehabilitation program.