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Five Questions With Meghan Knichel of Planet Access

By Stephanie Sack | Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Meghan Knichel of Planet Access. Credit: Stephanie Sack

Lincoln Square is a better place thanks to Meghan Knichel’s tireless efforts. Working in social services since her early twenties, Knichel’s professional endeavors have lead her, among many other places, to the Planet Access store (4727 N. Lincoln Ave.) where people with disabilities are able to work and earn money in a structured and secure atmosphere. She coordinates both a warehouse for Planet Access’ parent company, Search Inc., and the work training program based out of their clothing shops such as the one in Lincoln Square. When Knichel is not helping with in-store art shows or booths to represent Planet Access at local fests, she’s enjoying the amenities and attractions in Lincoln Square or relaxing at her home in the area.

CSJ: What is your professional background and how did you come to work for Planet Access?
Knichel: I started working in social services as soon as I finished college. More specifically I’ve been working in and managing vocational programs (for 12 years at 3 different agencies), which provide work skills training to people with disabilities — our “clients” — and then help them get and keep jobs in the community.

Technically I work for Search Inc., which is a not-for-profit social service agency. They are the parent company for a few small businesses — cleaning, warehousing/distribution, retail, assembly/packaging — including the Planet Access Company Store in Lincoln Square. The businesses are created to give our clients the opportunity to get paid to work in a setting that can provide additional support and training as needed. Once they are ready, we help them to find community employment outside our agency.

What is your title and what do you do there?
My official title is Operations Analyst. I use that title when I’m managing operations for the customers of our warehousing business. My other title is Vocational Program Manager. I use that title when I’m managing the work training program for our people with disabilities. I also have two supervisors, one for each title, which makes things tricky sometimes.

Why did Planet Access choose to open in Lincoln Square, and how has the neighborhood been to the shop?
Search’s cleaning crew has a contract with the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce to pick up trash, pull weeds, water planters, and dump overflowing trash cans in the Lincoln Square Special Service Area. The Chamber informed us of the available space for rent.

The neighborhood has been great. The customers are excited to have another clothing store in the area, and the store has been invited to participate in several Lincoln Square events and festivals. The only problem I’ve had is finding parking when I need to deliver product from our warehouse to our store. One time I was double parked with my hazard lights on while running boxes back and forth between my car and the store. I swear I was gone for only two minutes and came back to find a parking ticket!

What are some of your favorite success stories from the Lincoln Square store?
Twice we’ve pulled off a booth at street festivals with very little preparation time. We’ve had two art shows in the store for Search client artists with disabilities that went very well. And we’ve trained one client to work in the store where she displays products, does light cleaning, provides customer service, and operates the cash register.

Finally, what are your favorite places to go and things to do in the neighborhood?
Actually I’m less involved in the Planet Access Company Store these days, so I’m always eager to find out what new products we have available. Besides that, I love the German-American Festival, shopping at Enjoy, the farmers market, Cafe Selmarie, events at the DANK Haus, Gene’s Sausage Shop, and hanging out in my back yard, since I live in the area too.

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