– By Andrea Gaines
On Feb. 1, United States Senator Tim Kaine visited the mailroom, day support areas and the medically-related program spaces at ECHO’s northern Virginia facility. It was a visit by a politician; one of many the nonprofit has hosted over the years. But, in a place like ECHO, where everything you see and everyone you meet lives and breathes the ECHO spirit, a visit by a sitting United States Senator takes on a different tone.
Here, a United States Senator and the wheelchair-bound man working to meet his deadlines in the mailroom … are on the same level.
As Kaine said in a Facebook post shortly after his visit: “Inspiring visit to ECHO in Leesburg today. ECHO is an an incredible organization … Thanks to ECHO, nearly 150 adults with disabilities have jobs in Loudoun and Fairfax Counties that have given them tremendous social and professional opportunities. In order to build stronger communities, we should be helping all hardworking Virginians and Americans access the jobs of the future.”
The short version of this extraordinary organization is that ECHO provides job skills training and support, job placement and transportation for adults with disabilities.
The more enduring version is that ECHO makes a lifelong commitment to each and every individual it serves, supporting their talented and diverse family from their Leesburg facility, and onsite at the dozens of businesses that employ them.
The long and enduring version is that, to ECHO, adults with disabilities travel back and forth to work just like we do – with jobs at restaurants and in administrative offices, mail rooms, and fulfillment and packaging shops, in manufacturing plants, at warehouses, and in retail stores.
During his visit Kaine met with the leaders from the organization, toured the facility and shock hands with ECHO’s office and administrative staff as well as the disabled adults who work here. Welcome signs, and welcome T-shirts with the new ECHO logo were everywhere, and Kaine seemed genuinely touched.
One ECHO partner at the meeting with Senator Kaine was Janelia Research Campus, a scientific research campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Director of Innovations and External Relations, Mike Perham shared how Janelia employs ECHO participants in daily research and upkeep at the campus.
Senator Kaine also saw the benefit of state and federal support of ECHO’s work, including through what are known as AbilityOne contracts. These contracts facilitate the employment of people with disabilities at federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Transportation Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division in Sterling, and the Federal Aviation Administration in Leesburg.