SEKRI featured at Chamber’s Lunch & Learn
Published 2:03 pm Monday, February 5, 2024
By Jay Compton
Southeastern Kentucky Rehabilitation Industries (SEKRI) was featured at the January Lunch and Learn series put on by the Bell County Chamber of Commerce.
Stan Baker, SEKRI’s director of purchasing and a long-time spokesman for the company, shared a bit of SEKRI’s history and showed off samples of the items that are manufactured locally for the U.S. military.
Chamber Director Melissa Turner welcomed a crowd of about 30 people to the event, including Mayor Boone Bowling and Middlesboro Main Street Director Celia Shoffner.
“We are thrilled to see such a wonderful turnout for our friends at SEKRI, not only for hosting us but also for the incredible work they do in our community every single day. Your commitment to supporting disabled individuals is truly commendable and we are all eager to learn more,” Turner said. “I also want to thank Shades for opening up their doors for us on a Monday. They are a 10 out of 10 and we are thankful for having them in our community.”
SEKRI employs about 600 people at their plants in Corbin, Cumberland, Harlan, Paris, Middlesboro, Pineville and Jellico, Tn. and the majority of them are considered disabled.
“The company has been around since 1971, 53 years. The mission then was the same as the mission now: Providing opportunities for people with significant disabilities and enabling them to obtain and to be successful in maintaining competitive employment,” Baker said. “The neatest part is 325 to 350 of those have been diagnosed with some kind of barrier to work. We figure out what a person can do and then we design a system to help them be successful doing it.”
SEKRI makes first aid kits, fire retardant shirts, individual tents and caps and various other equipment for all branches of the armed forces.
“If you either have served or know somebody that served in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines in the last 15 or 20 years the chances are extremely good that they wore a cover of some sort made by people with disabilities at SEKRI,” Baker said.
He also showed an Advanced Tactical Assault Panel (ATAP) worn by Airborne soldiers under their parachutes.
“It’s designed so they can carry any kind of weapons or supplies they need if they’re dropping into a hot area so they can access them before putting away their parachute,” Baker explained. “100 percent of these are made right here in Middlesboro.”
Baker said SEKRI is fortunate to have two plants operating in Bell County.
“You guys have a very rare thing here. Bell County is one of the most welcoming communities, regardless of which end of the county you are on,” he said. “Most places you go people are like ‘Who are you and what are you doing here?’ It’s not like that here and you all should be very proud of that.”
SEKRI provides various services, including vocational rehabilitation, job placement, and other support mechanisms to empower individuals with disabilities.
Albertina Cummings has worked as a sewing machine operator at SEKRI in Middlesboro for the last five years. She said that as a Black woman, she faced lots of adversity in her life and career living in a small town.
“As I became older and began experiencing different medical issues, finding gainful employment became even more difficult,” she said. “SEKRI has welcomed me with open arms, not in spite of my conditions but as a celebration of my disabilities. They have shown me how to turn anything into love and patience.”
Cummings said all SEKRI employees are encouraged to grow and reach their full potential.
“In all of my previous employment, I have never experienced an environment that is so full of positivity and a willingness to nurture individuals that the rest of the world means to dismiss,” she said. “That’s what makes this company so special to me.”
SEKRI operates as a non-profit organization, is ISO Certified and participates in the AbilityOne Program, which coordinates government purchases of products and services provided by non-profit agencies whose workforce is made up of a minimum of 75% disabled individuals.
Baker closed by saying the company plans to continue operating in Bell County for the long haul.
“We enjoy being a part of this community and we look forward to many years getting to know the folks of Bell County even better,” he said.
To learn more about SEKRI visit their website: www.sekri.org.