History

Challenge Workforce Solutions is a non-profit organization based in Ithaca, New York, now celebrating its 52nd year of creating pathways to employment for people with disabilities and other barriers.

Robert Sprole Sr. founded Challenge in November 1968 as a sheltered workshop with 13 participants within the walls of his manufacturing business, Therm Inc. From these humble beginnings, Sprole’s vision of a truly inclusive workforce has continued to manifest: today, Challenge serves over 1,000 individuals each year, 95 percent of whom are placed in community-based settings with more than 150 employers in the region.

Challenge’s participants are a diverse mix—about 35 percent have a developmental or physical disability; the rest are working to overcome a variety of other obstacles including mental health diagnoses, generational poverty, language barriers, substance abuse, and incarceration.

Likewise, Challenge’s programs range widely—from pre-vocational services, which offer training and experience in general work skills, to direct placement, which provides job-seekers with the tools and supports to secure full-time employment with opportunity for career advancement. Each of these programs is highly personalized to best support participants in forging their own paths to greater self-sufficiency.

Challenge also advances its mission through the operation of several businesses in the Social Enterprise model. These ventures provide over 200 training and employment opportunities for participants while meeting the needs of several top employers, including Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Wegmans.

In 2021, Challenge formed an alliance with Mozaic, another regional nonprofit. With over a century of combined service to thousands of individuals across the Finger Lakes region of New York, Challenge and Mozaic have long shared a common commitment: building one strong community where people with varying abilities and barriers gain independence and become an integral part of society. This alliance will position both agencies to offer a more robust array of person-centered, community-integrated services to an expanded geographical area while promoting fiscal sustainability and opening up new avenues for innovation.