Margie Blatsioris and her Sandstone client Marsha Soukop stock the bookshelves at Soukop’s new job at the Goodwill store in Madison on Monday. Blatsioris spent more than 30 years working with special needs students at Madison Consolidated Schools. She now works as an employment specialist at Sandstone. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Margie Blatsioris and her Sandstone client Marsha Soukop stock the bookshelves at Soukop’s new job at the Goodwill store in Madison on Monday. Blatsioris spent more than 30 years working with special needs students at Madison Consolidated Schools. She now works as an employment specialist at Sandstone. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Since she was a child, Margie Blatsioris says she's wanted to help people with special needs.

That desire to help those who needed it the most led her to work with people with mental disabilities. For 34 years, Blatsioris worked in Madison Consolidated High School's special education department.

"I've always had the desire to make a difference to kids who needed the most help, and I felt that special ed kids needed the most help," she says.

It was while she was in high school that Blatsioris got her first experience in working with people with mental disabilities.

Blatsioris grew up in Gary and took a class that allowed her to go to a mental health facility in Westville, a city just east of Gary, once a week.

"I got to work and do activities with the mentally handicapped people there," she says.

She was hooked. Blatsioris says she just loves helping people.

"My friends in school were always kids that didn't have many friends, for whatever reason.Maybe it was the way they dressed, or the way they talked or the way they walked," she says.

Her family is the same way, she says. Her mother worked in a hospital and her sister runs a non-profit animal shelter.

After moving to Madison, Blatsioris started working at Madison Consolidated High School and stayed there for more than three decades while working with her students and forming relationships with them.

"I was on the second generation of students at the high school," she says. "I had their parents and then I had their children."

She announced her retirement in June, but it didn't last long.

"I thought that after 34 years I was ready to retire totally. This job came available, and I felt I still had a void," she says. "There was a void there in my life where I still needed to make a difference."

She retired on June 3 from the school and was hired as an employment specialist at Madison-Sandstone Industries on June 7.

Blatsioris says she helps people with disabilities get jobs in the community - basically any job in Jefferson or Switzerland counties. She also helps her clients study for their GED, work on résumés and go through mock interviews.

The difference between her old job and her new job, she says, is that at high school she was training her students to be ready for the working world. Her clients at Sandstone Industries are ready to take their first steps into the working world.

Blatsioris says recent changes in the job market have made finding employers for her clients difficult.

"You used to be able to get a job just as a stock person, lets say. Now, you have to multitask. You just can't get a job anymore as just a stocker," she says. "You also have to, lets say, need to know how to work the cash register."

Currently, there are 72 clients that come to Sandstone for help and training to find a job. Blatsioris works directly with 10 of those clients, one of whom was a former high school student in her class.

The skills required for teaching and her new job are similar - having flexibility, the love of working with children and adults and patience, she says. Skills she believes not enough people have.

"I don't know. It must be a calling of some kind."