Got Heart? KIALOA Paddles

abilitreelogoA few years ago I had the privilege of getting to know the work of a non-profit in Bend, Oregon called Abilitree. They provided the program at Bend’s City Club focused on creating awareness of the work of their clients (be sure to learn more here). The key speaker was a slight young woman named Karen Gaffney. Karen is a world renowned swimmer – having crossed the English Channel, completed the Lake Tahoe crossing (9 miles in 50 degree water) , the Molokini Challenge and the Alcatraz Triathlon relay. Swimming was therapy after she had 5 hip surgeries before the age of 15. Karen faces such challenges with courage and will-power. One of her challenges is Down Syndrome. (Be sure to watch the video below to see Karen receive her Honorary Doctorate degree for her work and advocacy)

As in every aspect of her life, Karen has not allowed anything to limit her quest to make a difference and use every bit of her determination and talent to the max.  Karen inspired each and every person the the City Club audience that day. But no less inspiring was the opportunity that Abilitree afforded our community by making us aware of the heroes and stories of their clients right here in our town. Abilitree provides jobs, training, community service and independent living opportunities for people with disabilities. Individuals with a wide range of abilities come to their work center and receive training for various types of jobs. Abilitree then provides outsourced manufacturing, product assembly and product packaging either in their facility or on site at businesses here in Central Oregon.

Recently, I had the chance to visit the KIALOA Paddles sales and manufacturing base here in Bend, Oregon.  I had heard that KIALOA was being honored by Central Oregon Employment First as a recipient of the Workforce Inclusion Supporting excellence award for group employment. They had been working with a group of clients from Abilitree over the past few years.  I was curious to see what part of the assembly process was being handled by the group from Abilitree.

Amy Graves from KIALOA Paddles accepting the WISE Award in 2013

Amy Graves from KIALOA Paddles accepting the WISE Award in 2013


An Abilitree client being recognized for excellence at work

If you have ever spent time with any of the team from KIALOA Paddles you know they operate under a “fun at work,” “do what you love ” environment across all teams. Their website exudes the passion and heart they have for what they do.   Being in the warehouse where hundreds of KIALOA paddles are assembled to top quality standards each day was like being a kid in a candy store. The beautiful paddle blades and endless array of paddle types distracted me from the story the KIALOA production lead, John, was sharing.


The many faces of the KIALOA adjustable paddle

I did finally focus as John took me over to a work station where the half dozen components of the KIALOA adjustable paddle shaft were organized. As John showed me how each piece of the assembly process worked he shared the story of how the clients from Abilitree had added to the efficiency of the adjustable shaft assembly. The task of carefully completing each step of the pre-assembly for the adjustable paddle can become tedious for some. Imagine looking at a stack of 500 sets of the pre-assembly parts. It can be overwhelming – but to the team of 7 Abilitree clients who share the pre-assembly work the required attention to detail is a joy.

The repetitive tasks involved in assembling each component have been accomplished to the high KIALOA standards for over 18 months now. As John explained how various people from Abilitree keep the collaboration running smoothly he peppered that explanation with stories. The clients are consistent, enthusiastic and precise in their work. They often visit KIALOA and learn how their part in the process of assembling an adjustable paddle matters. I looked about the warehouse with different eyes after that.  The rows of adjustable paddles  were just one more example of how KIALOA includes heart  – and includes a terrific value to our community – every day.

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