Non-profit ‘U&I’ Aims to Break Poverty Cycle for People Who are Disabled

Two colleagues | Image by Edwin Tan

U&I, formerly known as Achieve DFW, is trying to help eliminate the stigma associated with being physically disabled, according to CEO Hugh Breland.

Breland explains that, by teaching people skills and offering them chances to utilize those skills, they secure the tools and experience necessary to further succeed in the future.

“About 90% of our clients who start with us come to us with a household income equal to or less than the poverty level,” Breland told The Dallas Express. “We’re alleviating poverty and breaking the cycle of poverty while offering them an opportunity.”

The non-profit organization was founded in 1951 by Jean Walker Bentley, whose goal was to help those overlooked in the community, specifically children with special needs. In 1981, the charity began to focus on serving adults with disabilities.

U&I works to provide in-house employment and secure opportunities for its clients with outside companies. They can employ two hundred workers within their facility and help place 1,000-2,000 people at other jobs.

Their programs include employee placement, veteran placement, and vocational adjustment training (VAT).

Breland said the most significant goal for the foundation is to end exclusion and spread the light of inclusion. He said he believes a virtual society can help prevent those with disabilities from being judged based on their looks and viewed only for their abilities.

“So, we begin to close the gap that exists, and we close the opportunity gap to make it more equitable and to give access for an equal playing field,” he said.

In the next five years, he hopes the organization can take education- and life-skills training for special needs individuals to a virtual level, especially in the gaming world.

“What we see the future being is that you transform into the digital space, and you help them get jobs in the digital realm,” Breland said. “Whether that’s in a help desk or the actual creation of games, there are all kinds of possibilities.”

The non-profit is collaborating virtually with an organization called COSMOS (Create On Simple Microcontroller Open-source Software) to create virtual training, education, and job spaces. COSMOS currently offers coding training. Their programs are free, and offer beginner training to help students grasp coding languages and ultimately learn electronic theory and how to use electronic hardware.

The inter-agency program created by U&I and COSMOS will have a minimum viable product (MVP) to test in June and should be up and running by 2024.

On Saturday, March 26, U&I will hold its twenty-eighth annual 5K run in Dallas. The run, dubbed The Dash, takes place from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. at Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in Trinity Groves. To register, volunteer, or donate to the run, click here. The event will feature live entertainment, food trucks, small shops, and a kids zone. Breland said the run is the 71-year-old organization’s biggest fundraiser.

U&I will also have a podcast called Ending EX that will be released around the time of the fundraiser. Focused on the exclusion of disabled people from certain fields, it will highlight the work that needs to be done to achieve inclusion, and the people who are paving the way for it.

Breland hopes U&I will have partnered with one million people in time to celebrate their hundredth anniversary in 2051.

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