By Jason S Rufner
For the 140 program participants of the non-profit ECHOworks, the Dulles Greenway is a path toward self-fulfillment in more ways than one.
More than a long strip of smooth asphalt that conveys them to jobsites around Loudoun and western Fairfax, the Greenway — through proceeds generated from its annual “Drive For Charity” campaign, held this year on May 17 — also provides them with the van they rode in on.
“If we didn’t have a way to get our folks from home to work, none of this could happen,” said Bill Haney, for 29 years the CEO of Every Citizen Has Opportunities, Inc., branded as ECHOworks.
“That’s what the Greenway does for us,” he continued. “It allows us to purchase and maintain our vehicles so our people can get to those work opportunities. It couldn’t happen if we didn’t have that capability.”
This will be the fourth consecutive year that ECHOworks — a Leesburg-based philanthropic organization with a 37-year history of connecting persons with special needs to local businesses for mutual benefit — has received a healthy share of funds raised by the Greenway’s one-day event.
“It’s proven to be an excellent partnership,” Haney said.
In each of those years, the substantial largesse has reliably allowed ECHOworks to maintain its fleet’s existing 12-passenger vans in good repair while also adding a much-needed new one.
“It’s essential in updating the fleet and keeping our vehicles operating safely,” Haney said, noting that last year the Greenway was able to contribute over $47,000 to ECHOworks.
His marketing manager, Karen Russell — herself a 35-year ECHOworks employee — then spoke up about the Drive For Charity.
“It is the best fundraiser we have,” she said emphatically. “And it all comes from one day. We’re very excited about the upcoming drive.”
Several of ECHOworks’ vans are painted green beneath white lettering indicating that the Dulles Greenway directly enabled that particular vehicle — and the disabled citizens inside, headed off to work — to be there.
Each workday, those vans spread around Loudoun and Fairfax counties, frequently using the Greenway, to pick up and deliver program participants to the jobs ECHOworks has solicited for them — whether sorting parcels in mailrooms, aiding manufacturing processes or streamlining a company’s overall service.
That is the nature of what ECHOworks does: placing mentally, physically or developmentally disabled citizens into positions of valuable work, for which they receive both a paycheck and a justifiable feeling of usefulness in the community.
In so doing, ECHOworks helps local businesses increase efficiency and improve production while publicly demonstrating that their program’s participants bring genuine value to the area’s workforce, assisting myriad organizations from Telos Corporation to the U.S. Geological Survey to INOVA Loudoun Hospital.
Four years ago, the employees of INOVA Loudoun Hospital were dealing with an ineffective internal-mail system that saw deliveries made at most once per day. Upon the introduction of an ECHOworks team, mail distribution in the time-sensitive facility rose to three times daily on regular schedule.
“They became a seamless part of our operation,” said Lance Greene, the hospital’s Director of Materials Management, to ECHOworks’ newsletter. “This is a part of our long-term solution.”
Since, INOVA has contracted with ECHOworks to provide similar services to another of the corporation’s hospital.
“And we can still do more,” Russell said.
Whether ECHOworks can benefit a local business is not in doubt. The primary issue, according to Haney, is letting those businesses know that ECHOworks can help.
“When our program participants get to be part of a company, the people at that company get to see that our people are human, just like they are, that they have strengths, just like they do,” Haney said.
“Companies learn that our people are valuable. Without those worksites, we wouldn’t have that linkage to the community.”
Not that ECHOworks is a well-kept secret among the region’s business community.
“In the end, the company that benefits most from our relationship is us,” said Joe Travez, CEO of Ashburn-based Prototype Productions, in a recent testimonial.
Such benefits, of course, are not limited to businesses. A citizen who is referred to ECHOworks as a program participant from a county or state agency reaps rewards as well.
“One man actually got to the point where he didn’t not want to come to this specific program,” said Russell, recalling a citizen who participated in ECHOworks’ program for over 20 years. “Getting up and getting on our van and coming out here is what kept him going.”
That case is emblematic of the sign proudly emblazoned next to ECHOworks’ front door and atop the ECHOworks.org website: “Providing Jobs, Purpose, and a Future.”
ECHOworks is able to provide that purpose due to the outreach of the Dulles Greenway and its campaign to “Drive For Charity,” helping citizens reach for opportunities by getting them there.