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Lifelong Career Includes Challenge, Commitment


Like many involved in services for people with disabilities, Susan Legaard Trump didn’t intend to make a career of it. Then she fell in love.

“When I got out of college, I was thinking of how I would pay off student loans,” she recalled. “I had a degree in social work, and this was the first thing I could find.”

“This” was a job with Unified Services, an extended employment workshop for people with developmental disabilities in her hometown of Bethany. She quickly learned it was more than just a way to pay off student loans.

“It wasn’t long before I fell in love with the idea of providing these employees something meaningful to do during the day, to be accepted and have friends. I never dreamed of this when I was in college. But once I got here, I was hooked. And I’m still here.”

Not only is she still there, but she’s also been a longtime leader and past president of MASWM. She currently serves on the Board of Directors representing District 1 in Northwest Missouri. With her start in 1976, Susan may also be the longest-tenured workshop manager now in the state. One thing she’s found constant is a need to be on the lookout for contract work to keep her workshop busy for its 56 employees with disabilities and 17 staff members.

“Except for St. Joseph, this area is very rural,” she explained. “Finding work is a continuing challenge.”

That’s true not only for Unified Services, but most of the other five workshops in her district as well, especially the shops in Cameron, Stanberry and Rock Port. For Unified Services, finding work includes not only traditional services such as packaging and assembly, but also operating a retail thrift store, secure document destruction and janitorial services, including area highway rest stops.

But like rural shops everywhere, Unified Services can still suffer from the loss of a major local business. “We have suffered tremendously in the last four to five years from the closing of the Energizer Battery plant in Maryville,” she noted. “We are still struggling to make up the number of jobs it provided for us.”

Since that time, Unified Services has worked hard to diversify its customer base by developing its own businesses like the janitorial and secure document destruction programs. And like workshop managers everywhere, she finds these strategic issues often take second place to smaller but more pressing issues. “You spend a lot of time putting out fires and doing nitty-gritty stuff,” she laughed. “But that’s just part of the job.”

Some newer areas are not as enjoyable. “It’s not as fun as it used to be,” she said. “The regulations, the fighting over keeping this program that we dearly love and very much believe in – it’s a hard fight. It’s always been a threat but never as serious as the last three to four years.”

That’s one reason she remains active in MASWM. “I think everybody needs to take a turn,” she said. “It’s a tremendous learning experience. We all benefit from what the association does.”

One example involves current efforts to create a database of workshop business services. The list will help entities like Buy Missouri promote workshop services, as well as assist other shops in looking for help on a project.

Even with these challenges, Susan finds the work rewarding. “There are still days and moments where you come to work and you can see the magic that a sheltered workshop does and what it means to the people,” she said. “They’re doing valuable work, they have a paycheck and they’re proud. That’s the reason you keep going.”

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Susan Legaard Trump and her husband, Charlie, during a recent trip where they were “Standing on a Corner in Winslow Arizona.” Like most Missouri workshop managers, she usually has little time to stand anywhere!


MASWM The Missouri Association of Sheltered Workshop Managers
If you have questions, please contact: President Aaron Martin – (816) 796-7070 or amartin@job1one.org;
or Legislative Co-Chairs: Kit Brewer – (660) 263-6202 or kbrewer@rcsiemployment.org
and Brian Hogan – (816) 483-1620 or bhogan@bvinds.org