Custom Ink, iCelerate partner to donate 1,100 face coverings |

Custom Ink, iCelerate partner to donate 1,100 face coverings

Jimmy Breslin, community development officer at iCelerate, far right, delivers more than 1,100 face coverings to the Boys and Girls Club of Truckee Meadows in April.
Courtesy Photo: iCelerate

RENO, Nev. — LaVonne Brooks was in need of t-shirts.

The CEO of iCelerate — a Reno-based nonprofit that provides services to adults with disabilities — noticed the lack of accessible face coverings for families in need as the coronavirus spread into Northern Nevada in March.

Brooks and iCelerate wanted to help answer the need — quickly — and saw t-shirts as the key.

“There were a lot of ideas for people to sew masks, but I thought, gosh, a lot of people don’t have sewing skills anymore, and they don’t have access to materials,” Brooks explained. “I took some of my t-shirts and started to play around, and I came up with a design where you can use the sleeve of a t-shirt and cut slits where you put it over your ears. We came up with a way to get four or five coverings out of one t-shirt.”

With a design established, Brooks’ next move was to call Custom Ink and ask if they could spare some shirts. The Reno-based custom t-shirt company didn’t hesitate, donating hundreds of poly-cotton t-shirts — a fabric blend the CDC suggests is a better barrier than others if one doesn’t have access to an actual N95 mask.

“Custom Ink has a rich history of helping our communities and it’s true to our core values as a company,” Richard Bray, general manager at Custom Ink, said in an email to the NNBW. “We support and assist a number of organizations in the Reno-Sparks area so it’s just natural that we would find a way to support iCelerate. It’s just the right thing to do.”

Thanks to Custom Ink’s donation, Brooks and a handful of her colleagues turned hundreds of t-shirts into more than 1,100 washable and reusable face coverings.

“In times like this, part of the motivation was we all just felt like we wanted to do something,” Brooks said. “And we felt this would be cool because you don’t have to sew it and it’s free.”

The face coverings were delivered to the Boys and Girls Club of Truckee Meadows, which handed them out in April during their weekly Thursday food pantry distribution with the Food Bank of Northern Nevada throughout Reno. 

“Personally, I believe it’s important to give back at all times and not just during the difficult times,” Bray said. “There are many businesses in the Reno-Sparks area that share this thought and do wonderful things to support our local organizations and our community. Having that as part of the norm makes it that much easier to help when we are in difficult times.”

For iCelerate — formerly known as High Sierra Industries — the coronavirus pandemic has “profoundly” impacted the organization, Brooks said.

A branch of iCelerate’s services is providing workforce development for people with disabilities through its iWork manufacturing program.

LaVonne Brooks is CEO of iCelerate.
Courtesy Photo: iCelerate

Through the program, employees earn at or above minimum wage while doing tasks such as electromechanical assembly, wire harnessing, and compiling hardware kits, Brooks said. Once the COVID pandemic threw a wrench in the U.S. economy, however, iCelerate’s work demand dried up.

“That slowed down to practically nothing,” Brooks said. “Because we’re in the middle, a subcontractor, if they (companies) don’t have customers buying things, they don’t need us to build things for them. Let’s just say we did a lot of assembly for the gaming industry, so that just kind of went away. Slowly, it’s coming back now … we hope.”

As a result, on the workforce side, Brooks said iCelerate has lost roughly $2 million to $3 million out of its $8 million annual gross. Brooks noted that the organization, which has a staff of about 27 people, did not lay off any employees, paying them fully even before being approved for the federal government’s Payment Protection Program.

“Financially, the impacts are pretty dire for most of us,” she said. “We’re in the process right now of figuring out what we’re going to do.”

Moreover, Brooks said the COVID crisis has altered the lives of the people with disabilities that they serve, both an employment and health and safety standpoint.

“People with disabilities are absolutely the most vulnerable people in our population on a regular day,” Brooks said. “It just makes it that much more challenging now for them to have programs that they can be included in safely. The communication process is even more critical for the challenges that they face with their own healthcare. If the person doesn’t have language skill, how do we know when they might not be well?

“It shines a light on we’ve come a long way, and we haven’t come very far at all in terms of really well-serving that population.”