The T-shirt designed by 13-year-old Kamryn Albers moves from one printing station to another as its artist follows each step with nothing short of elation.
Albers has Down syndrome and is one of several teens with disabilities who work with Paper Clouds Apparel to showcase their creativity and help raise money for the International Down Syndrome Coalition. In this case, Albers has designed a “robot” to be imprinted on dozens of T-shirts.
“I’ve heard this one say she’s super excited about a hundred times today,” said Kamryn’s father Klayton Albers.
Paper Clouds Apparel is a local company that combines creative design with a desire to help those in need. Their mission is to showcase the creativity and artistic talents of individuals with disabilities, while raising money for special needs organizations.
Fifty percent of the proceeds from each campaign are given to a special needs organization, which changes every few weeks. So far this year, Paper Clouds Apparel has donated more than $50,000 to organizations such as the International Down Syndrome Coalition, Project Outreach Fairhope and iCan House.
“I think those that haven’t really had a feeling that they can contribute and that they have skills and they have talent, it gives them a self esteem boost that they haven’t really ever had,” Paper Cloud’s founder and CEO Robert Thornton said. “Just a feeling that we are giving them a chance to be up on a pedestal and really feel good about themselves.”
While these organizations address many of the challenges that disabled Americans face, finding work remains a persistent problem.
“The unemployment rate for people with a disability is double what the unemployment rate is,” said Shana Ellis, President and CEO for the Centers for Habilitation in Tempe. “The unemployment rate we hear all the time, I think right now it’s about 5 percent, it’s over 10 percent for people with disabilities.”
Workers with special needs also package Paper Clouds Apparel’s merchandise at The Centers for Habilitation in Tempe.
“We can hire them and they do such an amazing job, I actually feel lucky to have them,” Thornton said. “[I] hope that other businesses will give those with special needs a shot and give them a chance because they are the hardest and best workers you are ever going to find.”
Chantell Gutierrez works at The Centers for Habilitation doing various jobs. She has worked with Paper Clouds Apparel folding shirts and sorting hangers, and she recently started rolling silverware for Dave and Busters. Gutierrez says she enjoys the independence that payday brings.
“Sometimes I like to save and sometimes I like to spend it, it’s my choice,” she said.
Providing the opportunity for those with disabilities to earn money and be productive in a job is what inspires Paper Clouds Apparel’s involvement, Thornton said.
“I think those that haven’t really had a feeling that they can contribute and that they have skills and they have talent, it gives them a self esteem boost that they haven’t really ever had,” Thornton added, “Just a feeling that we are giving them a chance to be up on a pedestal and really feel good about themselves.”
Justin Lundeen, who also has Down syndrome, frequently submits his artwork to Paper Clouds Apparel. He is featured in many of their campaigns and even models for the company.
“I am an artist,” he said. “It makes me so happy.”