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Pam Martin's Story: Coming Full Circle

Pam Martin hasn't "seen it all," but her experience is pretty close when it comes to serving people with disabilities.
Thanks to her services for people with developmental disabilities in southwest Missouri, Pam Martin sees her life as coming full circle.

Now Executive Director of Bates County Industries in Butler and Area III Director for MASWM, she first experienced the field after high school and planning on a family.

I went to work at the Carthage Sheltered workshop,” she recalled. “I only stayed a few months. Their job was opening molded cheese from Schreiber’s, and I was pregnant with twins. That didn’t work well. However, I was there long enough to know that I should do that work someday.”

No Stranger to Hard Work

After starting her family, Pam worked in a family business that required loading and unloading box trucks. Later, she went to nursing school to become a certified nursing assistant and medical technician but later decided to change professions and went to work as an office manager. She even spent time in TV and radio advertising.

After her four children left home, Pam decided to go back to college and was accepted at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin. “What an experience that was in my 40s,” she recalled.

In fact, Pam was often in the role of teacher as well as student, teaching a nontraditional orientation class, counseling students who wanted to learn advertising and managing the advertising department for the campus newspaper. Most importantly, she majored in psychology and business developing more key skills needed to run a workshop.

“Workshop, nursing, office management, advertising, psychology and business – everything I needed for this position,” she explains.

That’s when fate stepped in. After her children were grown, Pam moved to Butler to assist her sister there who had suffered a severe stoke. While there, she found an advertisement for the director’s job with Bates County Industries. At first Pam hesitated because she could not promise longevity and knew that some people with disabilities find change difficult. A few months later, she saw the ad again and decided this was meant to be. Eleven years later, she’s still with the workshop.


With a population of 4,700, Butler does not have a large workshop, with only 23 employees, four staff members, two drivers and one warehouse worker. The community is home to only three manufacturers, and the business the workshop receives has been falling because of automation. One response has been a move into recycling, which brings work and pride.

“The workshop is their life, their social life, and it’s where they make their best friends,” she noted. “They give their caregivers trouble when we have to close for a day. Many of our employees are nearing retirement, and with their age, it can be hard to find contract work that they can handle.”

She also looks for grants and other sources that can help with equipment purchases, like a bunker that holds 40 to 50 tons of glass for recycling. An unexpected challenge came in August with a destructive fire in the workshop. The Adrian Optimist Club provided space for employees to work, and they hope to be back in their 18-year-old workshop in early 2019.


Like many managers, she’s also active in her community, serving on the local chamber of commerce board and speaking to organizations and community groups about the workshop. She’s also active in MASWM and while there are many reasons, one stands out.

“When I started, I knew nothing,” she recalled. “I wanted help so badly. Today, I know we have new managers coming and going in my area. I hope to try and help them get started right.”

And while running a workshop is never easy, it is rewarding. “Of course, there are so many challenges with this position, but it is truly a blessing and an honor to have this position. I just hope I can give our employees even half of what they have given to me.”

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MASWM The Missouri Association of Sheltered Workshop Managers
If you have questions, please contact: President Aaron Martin – (816) 796-7070 or;
or Legislative Chair Brian Hogan – (816) 483-1620 or