Giving the 'Dignity of a Paycheck'

Working with ECHO to Employ the Disabled

Article by Melinda Gipson

Photography by Celeste Linthicum

Originally published in Leesburg Lifestyle

You've undoubtedly spotted ECHO's vans going to and from work in Loudoun County. Many of the nonprofit's 40 buses and vans now sport advertising, just like their counterparts in public transportation. These vans are just the most visible means of support ECHO offers disabled workers and their families, providing disabled workers a ride to and from their own daily jobs. Last year, the fleet drove more than 356,000 miles!

But the charity provides much more than a ride.

"We provide skill building, job placement and day support as well as transportation. Our services empower [more than 200] individuals to be active members of the community," says Erica Lengermann, ECHO’s director of marketing and communications.

Its stated mission is "to empower individuals with disabilities to achieve their optimal level of personal, social and economic success." 

"ECHO believes in the dignity of earning a paycheck. We strive to find meaningful employment opportunities suitable for each individual’s capabilities, interests and desires," Erika says.

One such employer is the Janelia Campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Center. 

"The ECHO and Janelia relationship is a win-win for everyone involved," says Todd R. Laverty, manager of Drosophila and Media Prep Shared Resources with Janelia, who manages one of three ECHO teams who work there. "ECHO employees care about their jobs and enjoy coming to work every day. Who doesn’t love that? They are genuinely disappointed when they cannot work due to weather delays or closings. This is quite the opposite reaction I get from my other employees." 

He adds that his other staff also benefit.

"They have more time to spend helping scientists at Janelia make new discoveries." Plus, he adds, "The ECHO employees put a smile on my face and enlighten many others on campus. My day-to-day challenges are put into perspective when I see ECHO employees contributing to the work being done. Many of my colleagues tell me the same, whether they have a brother or sister with special needs, or they just appreciate that [we are] involved in giving back to the community in a way they can see on a daily basis." 

Besides Janelia, workers contribute to the corporate culture at Stryker Spine (formerly K2M), Inova Lansdowne and Leesburg and Loudoun County Public Schools. 

The group says its business partners benefit from being more competitive and having low turnover, as well as becoming known in the community as having a strong ethic for corporate citizenship. ECHO handles all the human resources and hiring red tape as well as training and quality control. A job coach steps in to help workers find the best job fit, fill out applications, prepare for interviews, engage in job training and even shadows workers providing support as needed. The business does the actual hiring. Examples of jobs the workers have filled include dishwashing and restaurant services, packaging and kitting, sorting and tagging, and grounds maintenance. 

Such jobs always are in high demand. If you think you have a job for a local ECHO worker, contact Lana Heaslip, director of Business Development, at 571.707.8245 or

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