GREAT FALLS -- The Special Olympics Montana state summer games are a massive event.
Thousands of athletes converge annually on one city, and each of them proudly wear team colors or SOMT apparel to commemorate the competition.
Even this year, as athletes participate remotely from across the state, there remains a high demand for merchandise.
And that’s where the team at Montana Up comes in.
What started as a craft project for for adults with disabilities who are clients of Quality Life Concepts, a Great Falls based non-profit that provides services and support to individuals with developmental needs, has since expanded to a full blown business.
“We realized this was something that we could really actually start working on selling and offering employment opportunities for our clients,” said QLC Employment Enhancement Coordinator Doug McElroy. “So we got a website developed and put together and we've just kind of grown from there.”
The staff at Montana Up is comprised of QLC clients and handles all aspects of production. From design, to printing, to packaging and delivering.
“It’s a good experience,” said Montana Up employee Dezerae Schwartzenberger. “It gets me out of the house. And it’s a good experience to work with friends, and I like to work with Doug.”
Since 2017, Montana Up has partnered with Special Olympics Montana to produce apparel for the games, and other events.
“So we opened that up and did more than just t-shirts,” McElroy explained. “At that point, we decided to try hats and try some mugs and some coffee cups and water bottles. We had the technology to expand the types of things we offered.”
A lot of the workers at Montana Up are Special Olympics Athletes themselves. And they’re thrilled when they see their designs in public.
“Yeah, I'm proud of myself when I work on my shirt or see someone else's I get proud,” Schwartzenberger said.
Montana Up doesn’t just create shirts, they create lifelong skills for clients.
“The best part is learning skills,” said employee Nicole Parish. “Especially to be able to go out in the community and be able to work in the future programs.”
“It’s not just the hard skills of actually learning the process of production, but there's a lot of soft skills that are taught,” McElroy said. “How to show up to work on time, how to work with your teammates, how to request time off. And then that kind of opens up the door for any sort of employment they might want to pursue from there.”
To learn more about MontanaUp or to order a 2021 Special Olympics Montana State Summer Games shirt, visit montanaup.com