Morningside: Celebrating 50 Years Connecting Olympia’s Adults With Disabilities With Their Community

Don Hayden, VP of Technology and Jim Larsen, President and CEO of Olympia's Morningside connect disabled adults with employment in the community.


Jane Mohr, a Morningside staff member and John Nyiri, a client, work alongside one another at the Morningside offices.

Morningside is an Olympia organization that has stood the test of time.  And while you may say, “I think I’ve heard of them…what is it that they do?” it’s almost a guarantee that you’ve met and been positively impacted by their clients.  Centrally located on the corner of Legion and Plum Streets in downtown Olympia, Morningside is a non-profit Community Rehabilitation Program connecting individuals with disabilities and employers in Thurston County and beyond.

Their clients are the ones that make you smile while they bag your groceries or give you a wave as they collect the carts from the parking lot.  They keep your restaurants, daycare centers and businesses clean.  They file, sort and collate endless stacks of papers for our state government and local businesses.  They are essential both for the services they provide to their employers and the immeasurable positive impact they have on others.  Morningside’s clients work throughout our community in businesses such as Bayview Thriftway, Fred Meyer’s, Red Robin, Lamar Daycare, McDonald’s, Walgreens and the list goes on.

An Established History in the Olympia Community

Morningside began on June 11, 1963 by a group of courageous parents looking for meaningful opportunities for their children with disabilities.  They gathered in the basement of a church and brainstormed how they could create choices for their kids with disabilities in a time when options were limited and most were institutionalized.  The group grew using a sheltered workshop and activity center model for the participants which consisted of onsite arts and crafts, woodworking, weaving and other handcrafts.  These were then sold in a local shop and provided a modest income while creating much needed structure and meaning for their days.

Don Hayden, VP of Technology and Jim Larsen, President and CEO of Olympia’s Morningside connect disabled adults with employment in the community.

The sheltered workshop model continued as Morningside’s main focus as they moved to the Main Center, a new facility built on Olympia’s Westside in 1972.  Then Executive Director Janette Loutzenhiser stated, “We must and will make good things happen to the people we are here to serve.”  And Morningside continued to do this throughout the decade.

As the 1980’s approached, the organization began to see a change in both its clients desires to be out in the community and a greater acceptance of people with disabilities as valuable employees.  Focus shifted from the sheltered workshop to a supported employment program where clients were trained for specific jobs in the community.   CEO Jim Larson, hired in 1989, has been instrumental in this shift towards placing adults with disabilities into jobs throughout the community.

As of 2004 Morningside closed their sheltered workshop programs.  After surveying clients, they found 80% wanted to work in the community, interacting with others and being productive contributing members of the community.  During this transition, Morningside also began expanding outside Thurston County and has active branches in Lewis, Grays Harbor, and Clallam County.

Morningside currently serves about 500 people with a wide variety of disabilities including developmental, physical, mental and sensory disabilities.  An estimated 20% of the population has a disability and many could benefit from the services of Morningside.  64% of Morningside’s clients are considered to have significant disabilities, yet are succeeding daily throughout our community thanks to the training and support of more than 80 staff members working on their behalf.

“Washington State has by far the greatest percentage of people with developmental disabilities working in the community, with Thurston County having the highest percentage in our state,” Larson shares.  As Morningside is one of the largest organizations of its type in the state, it is easy to see the dramatic impact their programs have on our community.   “Morningside has a great reputation for being a quality, client focused program,” says Larson.

And because of this reputation, employers welcome Morningside’s clients and work extensively with their staff to find the right job to foster a sense of respect, dignity and inclusion in the fabric of their communities for each client.  Larson believes the core of Morningside is that “we work for our customers as partners, helping develop dreams and often moving ahead to remove obstacles so the road is easier.”

Meet Morningside’s Clients – Finding Success and Building Lives in Olympia

Morningside Client Robert Kleeger keeps the Olympia Country and Golf Club shining and his co-workers smiling.

Angela Pitchford helps people and loves it.  Angela is employed by Trader Joe’s in West Olympia and through Morningside’s careful job analysis and building upon her strengths, she enjoys stocking shelves, creating product displays and assisting customers.  Her managers, Chris Melsha and Brad Holmes, have been instrumental in her success by making accommodations such as schedule adjustments allowing Angela to ride the bus and using a cart, instead of a dolly, to stock shelves.  The success she experiences and the commitment shown by the staff at Trader Joe’s exemplifies the partnerships that are the cornerstone of Morningside’s 50 year success.

Olympia Country and Golf Club, a community fixture since 1926, has given form to Robert Kleeger’s passion to serve his community.  A drifter for much of his life, Robert was able to create a home in Olympia after connecting with Morningside in 2001.  In 2009 Morningside placed Robert at the Country Club, matching his reading skills and tidy nature with the Club’s ornate moldings and vintage brass which is in need of constant attention.  Robert has thrived and his co-workers appreciate his timeliness, and bright and cheerful disposition.

As Morningside celebrates its 50th Anniversary this coming June, they are proud of the work they have done, growing and changing over the years to meet the evolving needs of their clients and the community.  And we, as the Thurston County community, should also be proud of our business owners and state offices for continuing to hire Morningside’s clients, creating a network of support and care that benefits everyone involved.  Next time you are running errands or walking the halls of your own offices, you may notice a worker with a disability.  Chances are they secured their job through Morningside and chances are your day will be a little bit better for it.


809 Legion Way

Olympia, WA 98501


Morningside is a private not-for-profit 501(c)(3) Community Rehabilitation Program and is always looking for employers for their clients.  Please contact Morningside if you are interested in learning more.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email