Nonprofit expands B26 Gathering Place program

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Courtesy Beyond26

A nonprofit that connects job seekers who have disabilities with employment opportunities launched a second gathering space in Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids-based Beyond26 said Thursday, March 24, it launched a second B26 Gathering Place at Brookside Church, at 3600 Kalamazoo Ave. SE in Grand Rapids.

Established in 2018, Beyond26 is a faith-based nonprofit with a mission to find jobs and volunteer opportunities for individuals with disabilities. The age 26 is a critical time for developmentally disabled community members, because it is the age when Michigan’s state-supported education system ends, leaving families and caregivers on their own to find support and structure for their adult child.

B26 Gathering Place’s social events for community members with disabilities and their families and friends will be hosted from 6:30-8 p.m. the third Monday of each month.

The B26 Gathering Place is being integrated into the church’s Brookside Friends Alive program, which provides activities for community members with disabilities and their peers.

“We have seen firsthand the profound impact that workplace relationships have on our job seekers. Our B26 Gathering Places are another way for community members to socialize and make connections while they explore employment opportunities,” said Dirk Bakhuyzen, executive director, Beyond26. “We envision a community where everyone can enjoy the benefits of a workplace environment and, in turn, every workplace is able to celebrate different abilities and enjoy the benefits of inclusivity.”

To celebrate the new partnership, Beyond26 and Brookside Church hosted a welcoming night celebration on World Down Syndrome Day, March 21.

“We are excited to partner with Beyond26 because their mission aligns so closely with our Brookside Friends Alive program,” said Kristi Handlogten, administrator, Brookside Church. “We look forward to serving more community members who have (disabilities), so that they can fully experience the love of Jesus Christ and actively participate in the community of Brookside Church and beyond.”

Since 2021, Beyond26 has been hosting B26 Gathering Place events at Marge’s Donut Den, 1751 28th St. SW in Wyoming, from 1-3 p.m. on the second Tuesday of the month.

“I really enjoy going. I get to help others and meet new people,” said Elizabeth, a Beyond26 job seeker, whose last name was not disclosed for privacy reasons.

Beyond26’s customized employment services match job seekers with employment based on their skill set and situation, the nonprofit said. It also provides preemployment services that address job readiness concerns and connect job seekers to resources. Then, once a client is matched with the company, Beyond26 provides ongoing follow-up and support services.

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