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Giving Back Comes in Many Forms

Jeff Jones' philosophy of giving back keeps him busy.
You might call Jeff Jones a glutton for punishment. But the truth is, he’s just dedicated to public service.

Jeff currently serves as director of not one but two workshops in Southwest Missouri – Innovative Industries in Carthage and Joplin Workshops, Inc.

He also just became one of MASWM-MESA’s new board members. He is also in his 12th year on the Carthage School District Board of Education, where he’s entering his second term as board president. Before becoming executive director of Innovative Industries nine years ago, he also served five years on that organization’s board of directors.

Explaining all of this community service, Jeff is straightforward. “I think it’s important,” he explained. “You have to give back.”

Full Circle

Originally from Carthage, Jeff began his career in warehousing and transportation, working nearly two decades in Carthage before a two-year stint managing a company in Kansas City. “It was a good background for workshops,” he said, noting both experience in logistics and business contacts. “I had lots of relationships with companies that tied into workshops later on.”

With his earlier service on the Carthage workshop’s board of directors, he also saw vividly the importance of workshops as both an employer and human service for people with disabilities. With help from the shop’s office manager, Innovative Industries has done well in both areas since he became manager.

“Between the two of us, we were able to employ people and keep the shop going,” he said. “It’s never easy, but we’ve moved forward.”

The most dramatic, recent news involves last year’s arrangement between the Carthage and Joplin workshops, essentially a merger that made Jeff manager of both shops, reducing overhead and adding production capabilities for both shops. The tactic has been used successfully in other locations, but it’s never easy.

“Last fall, (Executive Director) Susan Adams was going to retire from Joplin, and they were looking for a way to reduce overhead and find someone with experience,” Jeff recalled. “It was a win-win for everyone. It reduced overhead at both shops and gave us options we didn’t have.”

Never Easy

“Win-win” is a phrase workshops use only occasionally. Like managers across Missouri, Jeff knows that operating a workshop in many ways involves at least two jobs. One is a challenging business operation where workshops face competition, regulation and countless other factors that try to put them out of business. At the same time, workshops also provide a critical, even irreplaceable human service for people with disabilities.

These two primary goals are sometimes difficult to reconcile. Managers and other staff often must set aside a business concern to take care of a medical crises, find creative solutions that few private businesses can imagine and other stresses.

“The rug can get pulled out from under you, and then you really have to hustle,” is how Jeff describes it. “It’s HR, social work and much more. It can really change your priorities sometimes.”

It’s always impressive, then, when busy managers add to their workload by volunteering to serve on the MASWM-MESA board of directors. Others share Jeff’s reasoning.

“I’ve been a part of the association since I started, and I have been semi-active, but I felt like it was my time to step up and do my part,” he explained.

Looking for Ideas

One of his hopes is to continue efforts promoting workshop perspectives. “I think there are some things that I’d like to influence,” he noted. “Obviously, we’re under attack from a number of directions. And I’d like to find ways to drive business to all of our shops. There’s a lot to do.”

One possibility involves Missouri’s 35 shops involved in recycling. “Maybe we can consume those goods and create products,” he said. “That might help control our destiny some. Of course, others have to share the vision. There’s not many of us that have the resources to make that happen, but maybe together we could do something that would benefit us all.”

Outside of business issues, he is aware of the challenges from increasing regulation and even calls for an end to workshops. “We all have to change to continue to provide services to our folks. We’ve just got to find ways to generate more business and take government out of it.”

Beyond all of this, Jeff stays busy in other ways as well. Married for 30 years, he and his wife have two grown children. He was active in youth sports when they were younger but still finds time for a little golf and his interest in the extensive history of Southwest Missouri.

“I’m feeling pretty old sometimes,” he laughed. “But I stay busy!”

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MASWM The Missouri Association of Sheltered Workshop Managers
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President Rob Libera – (636) 227-5666 or
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