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Southeastern Kentucky Rehabilitation Industries

The nonprofit Southeastern Kentucky Rehabilitation Industries (SEKRI) was established in 1971 to provide employment for people with physical and mental disabilities. SEKRI has a long-standing contract to manufacture clothing for the U.S. military.

“Probably 85 percent of our work is sewn products of some type,” said Norm Bradley, SEKRI’s executive director. Products include caps, fire-resistant clothing, and a seven-layer cold weather clothing system.

The factory deals in high volumes – for example, employees make 80,000 Army patrol caps a month.

SEKRI has two plants in Corbin, one each in Cumberland and Paris here in Kentucky, and one in Jellico, Tenn. About 625 people are employed altogether—75 percent of whom have a disability.

Cheryl Sanders, director of rehabilitative services at SEKRI, said they work with employees to accommodate their needs so they can do their jobs. “At regular manufacturing, you have an engineer who figures out the best way to do a job. And everybody does it the same,” she said. “Here at SEKRI, we figure out the best way for that individual to do the job and help them be successful.”

Employee Don Hill, who has been blind since birth, trims threads off visors so they can be sewn onto hats. He is proud of being able to help the military. “This is for my soldiers. And it means all the world to me,” he said.

Employee Carrie Frazier sews camouflage pants for soldiers. “It’s a place you can learn. It’s a place that you learn to love people. And I love these people just like they’re my family,” she said.

Bradley said SEKRI has a full-time teacher on staff and a classroom where employees can go to study for their GED—and still get paid.

“We want them to leave here better than when they came,” Bradley said.

This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2109, which originally aired on February 27, 2016. Watch the full episode.