The Leesburg-based organization that connects adults with disabilities with businesses in need of reliable work is changing hands, and looking to expand its reach in the process.
ECHOworks, a nonprofit that cares for men and women with physical and mental challenges, is losing its chief executive officer next month. William Haney will retire after leading the organization for 33 years, and his hope is that more businesses will partner with ECHO to provide meaningful work for its clients.
“This population doesn’t have many choices throughout their life,” Haney said. “Part of our goal is to provide them with as many choices as possible and find something that they love to do and can do well.”
Under Haney’s leadership, ECHO grew from 75 clients, an annual budget of $300,000 and two work sites. Today, the organization serves 170 individuals with disabilities, with a budget of nearly $5 million and 15 work sites.
As Haney wraps up his tenure, ECHO’s board of directors is looking for a leader who will build on what the longtime CEO of the organization has helped established. Haney said his hope is for the nonprofit’s clients to spend more time out in the community on job sites, as opposed to spending their days at the ECHOworks headquarters in Leesburg.
“They want to work,” Haney said. “Some businesses say they were initially leery of us. But in the end, they say the ECHO employees have become role models for their employees. They’re the hardest workers.”
The organization has two new partnerships, with AOL and Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus. ECHO clients help in the kitchen at AOL’s Dulles campus and work with the grounds keepers at Janelia in Ashburn, and in its fruit fly research lab, helping to keep the space and equipment tidy.
ECHO also recently expanded its longtime relationship with Leesburg-based medical device company K2M. Five days a week, ECHO’s crews stay busy packaging K2M’s products for shipment and scanning and filing documents.
“It works very, very well,” said Dave MacDonald, K2M’s senior vice president of operations. “It’s a great partnership for both of us. We get the value of their contribution and they get to employ folks and do good work.”
He’s encouraging other businesses to evaluate what tasks ECHO workers would be suited to do. “I don’t think enough companies know or think through how they can look at their work requirements and engineer the work so the ECHO people could do it. We were able to match the right kind of work to the service that they can provide.”
Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA-10) stopped by ECHO’s headquarters Wednesday to tour the facility and present Haney with a resolution passed in the U.S. House of Representatives commending him for his work. She called the organization’s model a “win win” for both the clients and the companies they work for. The congresswoman recently helped ECHO renew its contact with the Federal Aviation Association. The nonprofit’s clients have been mowing the lawn at the FAA’s Leesburg campus since 1976.
Haney told Comstock he wants to maintain those longtime partnerships, like that with the FAA, while expanding to work with companies especially in eastern Loudoun and western Fairfax.
“If you could please spread the word,” he said to the congresswoman. “We’ll visit with companies and come out with a list this long with things we could do to help them.”
Learn more about the work ECHO does at echoworks.org.