New partnership expands program to help those with disabilities

People with disabilities can work in Lapeer helping refurbish golf balls. (Photo Credit: Nick Russo)

LAPEER, Mich. --A new partnership in Lapeer promises to create more job opportunities for people with disabilities in Mid-Michigan.

Christa Quade is one person who benefits from this partnership.

Quade has a positive attitude, and a great work ethic.

She also has a disability and that's made it difficult for her to find a job, at least until she found Lapeer Teamwork.

"I do those golf balls and I like them, it’s my favorite job," said Quade.

Quade helps clean, sort, and refurbish golf balls.

She has this opportunity in part because Jim Starr started his own business several years ago.

"I was hurt in the Middle East, I was a contractor, I hurt my back and my wife and I were retired living in the Philippines, I thought I wanted to golf and scuba dive every day but then once you start doing it you get bored," said Starr.

Starr returned to the U.S. and started a golf ball retrieval business.

Balls are collected from water hazards across Michigan, then brought to Lapeer Teamwork to get refurbished.

At the refurbishing center, people with disabilities work alongside people with higher skills.

Starr says it's a win-win for everyone.

"Everybody can work together and the disadvantaged people aren't kept in a closed factory off in a corner, and they can communicate and be part of a team," said Starr.

Earlier in 2017 Starr's business became part of a cooperative called Golf Ball Divers Alliance.

A partnership between that cooperative and Lapeer Team Work will allow them to offer more jobs to people like Christa Quade.

Building the golf ball refurbishment system required help from young people in the community.

Lapeer High School Robotics students created the sensors used to count the balls.

"It's incredible, there just we had thought it was a small project at first and then all of sudden it's like this machine does probably a couple million golf balls a year, and oh my gosh," said Lapeer High School Robotic Team member Andrew Schneider.

"My favorite thing about robotics is just seeing it go from nothing to something, and that's truly what this is," said Lapeer High School robotics student Tom Weir.

There's currently about 1.5 million golf balls waiting to get refurbished in Lapeer.

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