Riverfront fills need for participants, business clients


— Wrapping up one successful shift at Riverfront and looking forward to his next at Home Depot, Garrett paused when asked which job he liked best.

With a smile creeping from ear to ear, Garrett's answer was simple: "I love them both."

Love and happiness are common emotions at Riverfront, a nonprofit organization that supports adults with disabilities with a variety of services, many of which fill important employment functions for the participants and the area companies that contract with Riverfront for labor services.

A group of La Crosse-area parents who wanted more for their children after they left high school founded Riverfront in 1977.

The Rock County branch opened in Janesville in 2002 with 17 participants and has since outgrown its original facility. It now operates in a 14,000-square-foot building on Barberry Drive and serves 110 adults with disabilities.

Each weekday, participants arrive at Riverfront, which offers day services that include a variety of classes and recreational opportunities and provide respite for at-home caregivers.

Depending on their disability, participants also might go to work in Riverfront's vocational services area.

"We contract with area businesses who support us with work to do," said Sharon Fitzpatrick, Riverfront's volunteer and event coordinator. "It's typically a lot of piecemeal work, but they earn a paycheck.

"On Fridays—paydays—this is a very happy place, and each and every one of them is so very proud of what they've accomplished."

During a recent visit, a couple of people were putting end caps on precision-made batons that would be shipped internationally. Others straightened and organized clothes hangars. A different group stripped film from plastic sheets that local manufacturer Goex Corp. provided and eventually will recycle.

"Riverfront is an excellent organization," said Bob Merrick, Goex director of materials. "We're happy to be able to give them the work to do, and it is work that we would otherwise have to do."

The majority of Riverfront's clients participate in either day service activities or the prevocational work area, where the staff-to-participant ratio is one to four and one to six, respectively.

The remainder work jobs or have internships with area employers, said Andrew Anselmi, regional services director for Riverfront, which has a staff of about 75 in the county.

Riverfront, which is primarily funded from a variety of state and federal sources, also has three residences that each is home to four individuals.

In Janesville, Riverfront is often confused with KANDU, which also provides opportunities for adults with disabilities at various production facilities.

Preferring not to spark a debate on the pros and cons of either organization, Anselmi and Fitzpatrick said there are differences.

"We need to work together to give everyone the service they need," said Fitzpatrick, who spends much of her time spreading the Riverfront story throughout Rock County communities. "We both do a lot of the same things, but we're different, sort of like brothers and sisters.

"The community needs the services we provide, and those services are much less expensive than many alternatives, including institutions."

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