Since relocating from its Brooklyn headquarters to its new home in Richmond Hill in 2018, Alphapointe, New York’s largest employer of individuals who are blind and visually impaired, has made it a priority to reinvest in the facility by integrating state-of-the-art technology, while making it a space that is comfortable and accessible for its employees.
Alphapointe occupies a 100-year-old building at 86-47 123rd St. that was formerly an archive site stored for records and papers. The company employs approximately 200 people, with about 135 of them being blind.
“Unemployment is high right now, and for people with disabilities and people who are blind, it’s over 70%. That’s why it is so important for us to make sure we maintain all of our business, the building, and provide a good place for all of our employees to come,” said Gina Gowin, chief development and program officer and executive director of Alphapointe Foundation.
Alphapointe is a nonprofit organization that has continued to serve people who are blind and visually impaired since 1911. Headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, Alphapointe is the third largest single employer of visually impaired individuals in the U.S., employing over 400 people in nine locations in four states, including its main operations in Kansas City and Queens.
The company hires disabled individuals as well as providing training services, creating employment opportunities and placing clients in the community for jobs. At their over 130,000-square-foot space in Richmond Hill, Alphapointe’s employees do light and industrial manufacturing work.
They create a wide range of products such as janitorial supplies like mops and brooms, and clothing items which involve skills like sewing, knitting and assembly, for numerous local vendors and small businesses across the state. Additionally, they fulfill contracts with New York City, New York state and the federal government including the military branches by making top-of-the-line medical and tactical gear.
“Our goal and mission since our founding in 1911 is to put people who blind to work and provide them with opportunities,” Gowin said. “We believe work is a game changer and equalizes people who are blind. Even through COVID and a global pandemic, Alphapointe never shut down. We were designated as an essential business by the Department of Defense because of the products we make. We kept everyone safe and working. It was a tribute to the employees because they got it done and came to work everyday.”
Over the last couple of years, Alphapointe has invested in updating almost everything in the facility, making sure the space is clean, secure and safe, Gowin said.
“We’ve done a lot of work on the floors and walls. We put in brand new elevators to move our people and products, which is very important. There was a scary old freight elevator that could’ve gone out at any moment,” Gowin said. “We’ve been able to do that through manufacturing revenue, but also through support of the community, from foundations, businesses, the Queens City Council, state representatives.”
The company recently completed renovations on the first floor with a new rehabilitation and technology center. They also built an assimilated kitchen where people can come in and learn daily living skills, such as how to prepare meals and take care of a home and family, so they can learn how to be independent.
They have also expanded job placement services and offering programs for seniors.
As they continue work on the building, Gowin said they’re planning to install new HVAC systems, windows and a meeting space. Additionally, they’re working on a couple initiatives to upgrade machinery and equipment in order to stay competitive in the business market, while making things adaptive for people with vision loss.
As they have settled into their new permanent home in Richmond Hill, Gowin noted fundraising and why it’s important for the community to invest in Alphapointe.
“We want to be good neighbors and we contribute significantly to the economic impact of Queens,” Gowin said. “That’s why some of our state representatives and council members are coming because they want to see what we’re doing. The other thing is that blindness is totally nonpartisan, it can impact everyone and anyone. We can join that group at any time. I think it’s something that resonates with business and representatives.”
Gowin is encouraging business and community members to come out and see the work that Alphapointe does.
“We’re open and always willing to take people through for a tour. If people are losing vision and they’re working or don’t know where they can go to work or maintain themselves, call us. We can provide them direction, services and jobs,” Gowin said.
Senator Joseph Addabbo, who toured the facility in early February, was able to see the company’s operations and hear about their plans for the future.
“Getting to experience the amazing work happening at Alphapointe firsthand really makes you appreciate the scope of their operation,” Addabbo said. “The fact that they took a formerly dormant space and turned it into a fully operational factory and distribution center is remarkable. I was able to meet with some of the dedicated employees who, despite their impairment, are able to manufacture military apparel and products for our city. I wish Alphapointe the best of luck moving forward and will work to help make their vision for the future a success.”