(CBS4) – Blue Star Recyclers, a nonprofit social enterprise based in Colorado Springs with a mission of creating local jobs for people with autism and other developmental disabilities, is expanding. Kian Phair is among the unique staff there and knows that while taking apart computers isn’t for everyone, but it’s the perfect job for him.
“I like doing computer towers,” Phair said.
“I was the 2018 Employee of the Year,” Kian told CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann with pride. “It’s also important we’re helping the environment. We’re getting a lot of recycling completed.”
Blue Star Recyclers founder Bill Morris explained people with disabilities have a very high unemployment rate, so the organization provides a great opportunity for them to find meaningful employment and community engagement. He said employees like Kian often possess the patience, concentration and expertise needed to break down electronics.
“Traditionally, employers have hired people with disabilities under the auspice of philanthropy like, ‘I am going to do someone a favor and hire them,’” Morris said. “That’s just the opposite of why we should be looking at this population. It’s the best workforce in the world and our guys are really, really good at this.”
Since launching in 2009, Blue Star Recyclers has grown from six to 40 employees across three facilities – Colorado Springs, Denver and Boulder. It has gone from 250,000 pounds of recycling to 3.3 million pounds and is the largest recycler of electronics in the state. The nonprofit also launched a program with Cherry Creek Schools to teach electronics recycling.
“Special education students are able to learn these skills on campus and then, when they’re ready, we hire them,” Morris explained. “Kian was our very first employee from that program.”
Five years later, Kian’s mom said her son is thriving.
“Employment just makes everything better for him,” Rachelle Rice said. “This job really plays to his strengths. Working (at Blue Star Recyclers) has definitely allowed him to be able to communicate better with people.”
Rachelle explained Kian’s diagnosis doesn’t “fit one box,” but falls under an executive processing disorder. He sometimes has difficulties processing how to make his body work or how to react to things. However, it has never stopped him from dreaming big.
“He always wanted to be a bulldozer driver, but that wasn’t going to happen,” Rachelle said with a laugh.
And that’s just fine with Kian. He’s proudly living a greater dream as a Blue Star Recycler.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s really an important job that I like doing so much.”
Thanks to a generous grant from The Daniels Fund, Blue Star Recyclers is expanding its operations to Colorado’s Western Slope. The organization is also opening a facility in Chicago in the fall.