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MASWM President Sees Opportunity in Challenges

Aaron Martin sees MASWM as both a voice for workshops and the people they serve as well as a way to help managers.
Aaron Martin never expected to be a Missouri leader for employment opportunities for people with developmental disabilities.

Now CEO of JobOne Employment Services in Greater Kansas City and president of MASWM, Aaron didn’t initially plan a career in disability services at all. While attending college in his home state of Indiana, he started working in a group home for children with severe disabilities as a way to help make his way through school. It turned out to be an important step.

“It wasn’t by plan,” he laughs today. “I was trying to pay my own way through school and worked in a group home. It was perfect – I could do a little studying and get a little sleep, but then it evolved into management, and I found that I loved it.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Indiana University at Bloomington, he served as a group home manager for over two years. In 1998, an opportunity as associate director for a Jackson County residential service provider brought him to Missouri. Seven years later, he was named executive director-CEO for Foundation Workshop, Inc. in Kansas City. When Foundation and IBS Industries merged to become JobOne in 2011, he became its first leader.

Aaron later earned a master’s degree in nonprofit management from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. He was also becoming active with the manager’s association. Initially, he found it a great way to network with other managers around the state and gain ideas and insights into his own efforts. Later he saw it as even more.

“At first it was just a matter of being involved,” he explained. “You put your dues in as members, but then you kind of evolve into it.”

Multiple Benefits

For Aaron, one aspect of this involvement is appreciation for all that MASWM offers. “I learned so much,” he noted. “The trainings are great, but most of all for me is that you build relationships. You have resources, places to go when you have problems and ideas on ways to do things better.”

That’s why several years ago he began volunteering as an officer, service that led to his election as president in April. “You realize it’s kind of your turn,” he laughed. “And you try to make things better.”

Making things better isn’t easy, however, not with challenges from almost every direction for workshops in Missouri and across the nation. “We’ve gone through a lot in the last few years,” he noted. “Bruce Young (past president) really had it rough. He paved the way.”

Most of the challenge comes from outside of workshops and those they serve, their parents and guardians. These include new laws and regulations, even attacks on the viability of the idea of workshops in general. “It’s really external stuff,” he said. “People are firing at us from all directions.”

Major Issues Remain

A typical debate centers on the definitions for employment, including community integrated employment. For years, Missouri workshops have been leaders in what was originally called supported employment in their communities, but they now find many of these services under attack.

“The definition of what is considered community integrated employment at the federal level has changed,” he said. “It’s very restricted and doesn’t include much of anything that we offer statewide. That affects funding, vocational rehabilitation services and a lot of things.”

For example, many good workshops have community integrated employment positions that pay very well but for technical reasons don’t qualify as community employment under current guidelines. “I’ve got people right now making $18 (an hour), but according to the federal government, those jobs are not considered as meeting the requirements. It’s very frustrating.”

On the plus side are communication efforts like Missouri Day on the Hill that take the workshop story to state and federal leaders. Often led by people with disabilities, these efforts are powerful, direct communications that state and federal leaders don’t ignore.

“We’ve needed to take the offensive and tell our story,” Aaron said. “Managers themselves are kind of considered hired guns. But if you can have a person with a disability telling his or her story or the person’s mom or dad telling the story, that has an impact. Now there are people showing up telling our leaders how they love working in a workshop. It stands out. It’s not just someone in a suit talking about workshops.”

Looking Forward

As president, Aaron hopes to continue these efforts and other initiatives. One area he’d like to see expedited involves cooperation between workshops – basically increasing what has already been proven successful in some areas.

“One possibility would be to form LLCs to hire a salesperson for two or three workshops,” he said. “There are also opportunities for sharing work. It’s especially tough for the small, rural workshops who face so many challenges. There may be some things that the association can do to help in areas like that.”

Aaron and his wife, Nancy, have three children ages 16, 14 and 9. Not surprisingly, a lot of the family’s free time is spent in activities like baseball and music, but they also find time to travel a little and enjoy their home in Liberty.

Workshops, however, are never far from Aaron’s mind. He notes his former boss and past MASWM president Stan Shermantine taught him a lot. “He was always looking ‘over the hill,’” Aaron noted. “We need to do that in workshops more today. We have a lot of challenges, but we have the people and resources to meet those challenges.

MASWM The Missouri Association of Sheltered Workshop Managers
If you have questions, please contact: President Aaron Martin – (816) 796-7070 or;
or Legislative Co-Chairs: Kit Brewer – (660) 263-6202 or
and Brian Hogan – (816) 483-1620 or