One of NW Works’ lesser-known programs is also one of its largest: AbilityOne. The AbilityOne program is a federal initiative to provide jobs specifically for adults with disabilities that employs nearly 45,000 Americans, per the United States AbilityOne Commission. Almost two-thirds of those individuals are veterans.
At NW Works, Missy Pugh manages the AbilityOne program, overseeing a team of 23 employees at ten federal government sites in Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia. In Virginia, NW Works holds contracts with the US Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), as well as a non-AbilityOne government contract with the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute. Contracts often include tasks like custodial and landscaping work but vary based on the needs of the facilities.
Chris Flacksenburg is an ATF Supervisor –employed by NW Works– working at the ATF facility in Front Royal, Virginia. Formerly a job coach with NW Works, Chris moved to the government contract team in August of 2022.
“I was just looking for a change,” he said about the switch. “[I] saw an opportunity to try something new.”
Now, instead of working one-on-one with a client, Flacksenburg works with a team of five employees at a specialized site. His team handles everything from cleaning the buildings, mowing the grass, coordinating snow removal for the site and ensuring the dog kennels are clean. The cleanliness of the training spaces is especially important, dogs are trained to identify hazardous materials at the facility.
“They train the dogs to identify chemicals that may go into bombmaking materials, or they may identify accelerants that may be used to start fires in the case of arson,” Flacksenburg said. “They’ll have a class come in of, say, police officers from around the country, or government agencies, and they would work alongside the dog, learn to interact with the dog and identify the dog’s tells. As they’re paired up with the dog, they’ll eventually –after they graduate– become their partner and they’ll go back to their agencies.”
The individuals working at the ATF site are welcomed into the organization like any other employee.
“They treat our guys like part of the team. They’re quick to invite them to any functions they have. They never miss an opportunity to stop in and say hi and chat with them.”
Many of the AbilityOne employees have been at their sites for decades. Take for example, Kelly Fox, a member of the custodial team who has worked at both the ATF site and the Customs and Border Protection site nearby.
“I’ve been real fortunate to be here for 23 years,” he said. “Not that many people stay at one place that long.”
Before joining NW Works, Fox worked in a production role at a drilling company. But he says he enjoys custodial work, especially being at the ATF’s canine training facility.
“I love it, I can just clean. It’s even better that I can go back and see the dogs,” he said. “When I first started here, I had a fear of dogs. I was terrified.” However, he says ATF employees helped him to get over that fear and see what the dogs were capable of accomplishing.
“It’s almost like a family, everyone looks out for one another,” Fox said. “These dogs around here, they definitely make the world a better place.”
Pugh says the positions allow individuals to be part of something bigger than themselves.
“AbilityOne not only provides people a job, but it also provides them with a purpose,” Pugh said. “A meaningful purpose to be seen and appreciated each day. To be a part of a team, helping make a difference for not just our community, but our country.”
Unlike other employment services lines at NW Works, individuals with disabilities can apply for the AbilityOne jobs without referral from agencies like the Community Service Board or the Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services, says Pugh.
“If you or someone you know has a documented disability and are interested in working for AbilityOne, keep an eye out for openings on NW Works’s website under careers.”