Peter Sotir makes a delivery to Mark Rusk.
By Julie Duffin
Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. We’ve experienced this phenomenon countless times during the pandemic as individuals and companies have had to pivot in order to successfully do business in different and creative ways. One of the positive things that has materialized during this challenging year is the Naperville-based nonprofit Earn With a Purpose. Founded by Russ and Laura Karlins and Mark and Migdalia Sotir, Earn With a Purpose (earnwithapurpose.org) provides employment for individuals with diverse developmental abilities.
The idea grew out of a conversation about how the Sotirs’ 17-year-old son, Peter, was struggling to find a job that fit his developmental abilities—a demographic that typically faces an 80 percent unemployment rate. “It was then that we decided to start a company—a nonprofit that could employ Peter and others like him,” explains Russ Karlins. He contacted a friend at Gold Eagle, a Chicago-based company that makes automobile, boat, and home care products including sanitizers.
“I told him what we were thinking of doing. We didn’t know what it would look like in five years, but we wanted to start something that created opportunities,” Karlins explains. “Obviously with COVID, their high-quality hand sanitizer and multisurface cleaners were a great fit.” The nonprofit launched in July, and Peter began working in August. By October, they hired their second employee, William Wepking, a recent Naperville North graduate.
Both Peter and William are involved in almost every aspect of the business, from product sales and demonstrations to maintaining inventory and delivery. William specializes in personal FaceTime presentations. Because Peter and William aren’t in a position to do the deliveries by themselves, the Karlinses and Sotirs are on hand to support their distribution efforts.
“We work together as a team, as all small organizations do,” Karlins says. Earn With a Purpose is a true family affair with the Karlinses’ and Sotirs’ other sons serving as directors of the nonprofit. Its growing clientele list includes everything from individual customers and small businesses to car dealerships and large banks.
“We’re all about trying to provide employment opportunities to those with diverse developmental abilities. Right now we’re doing it by selling a few products. In time we’ll probably evolve and look for other products that people may feel more apt to buy from us,” says Karlins. They also foresee working with other families to expand Earn With a Purpose outside of Naperville. “We’ve got the greater Naperville area covered with these two young men. We’d like to find more people, 10 to 15 miles away, and just keep growing,” he explains. “It’s all about providing opportunities and treating these folks just like you or I and giving them the same opportunities.”