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Eastern Panhandle Training Center opens Jefferson Co. facility

December 02, 1996

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A project that has been in the making for years finally became reality this fall when the Eastern Panhandle Training Center opened a Jefferson County workshop.

Local participants in the program, which offers training and employment for developmentally disabled people, used to have to travel daily to the center's main workshop in Hedgesville in Berkeley County for services.

Parents of clients grew weary of the daily trip and finally convinced the center's board of directors to open a location in their home county, said Francine DeRonda, director of the new Jefferson Center.

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On Nov. 12, the Eastern Panhandle Training Center opened its new satellite operation in the former Jefferson Market grocery store on Jefferson Avenue.

The owners of the building, Charlie and Woody Adams, removed large refrigeration units from the rear and did extensive remodeling, such as installing new walls and ceilings. The roomy building gives the center plenty of room to conduct its training and employment programs, and center officials believe they may be able to accommodate up to 100 clients at the new site.

"It's a perfect building," said DeRonda, a Jefferson County resident who has worked for the center for about two years.

"It's a win-win situation for the residents of Jefferson County," said Joel Galperin, executive director of the Eastern Panhandle Training Center.

The training center provides employment and job training skills to developmentally disabled people who suffer from a variety of complications such as cerebral palsy, autism, mental retardation and epilepsy, said DeRonda.

No longer `warehoused'

Before the concept of agencies like the Eastern Panhandle Training Center, often referred to as "sheltered workshops," many developmentally disabled people were institutionalized, DeRonda said.

"They were just sort of warehoused," said DeRonda.

But even though they are disabled, people who suffer from the complications have skills, and experts know those abilities can be strengthened. Through contracts with local businesses, clients in the program are given jobs such as stuffing or labeling envelopes or doing janitorial or assembly work.

They also have made buttons for political candidates and worked on other campaigns. In this year's general election, the clients worked on mailings for Penn National Gaming Inc., which won voter approval to install video lottery machines at the Charles Town Races.

It's boring work for most people, and companies like contracting with the center because it can offer companies an attractive price to complete the jobs, DeRonda said.

Workers earn an hourly wage of between 44 cents to minimum wage depending on their productivity, said DeRonda.

Recently, a handful of clients worked on a recycling contract for the 3M company. Teresa Jenkins of Ranson said she likes earning money by peeling paper off the back of light-sensitive aluminum plates from the Imation plant in Middleway, formerly known as 3M, because it's a way to help her parents with their expenses.

The aluminum is later sent back to the palnt to be recycled.

"They helped me. I feel like I've helped them," said Jenkins.

Jenkins, who is 33, had a stroke when she was in high school. She was stricken with epilepsy after the incident, and she is prone to "drop seizures," where she can fall to the ground in an instant.

At work, she sits in a wheelchair and wears a helmet for her protection.

School district helps

There are 25 clients enrolled in the program, and there are another 15 on a waiting list to join the center, DeRonda said.

The Jefferson County school district has agreed to provide clients transportation to the center. School buses pick up the workers at about 10 different stops throughout the county daily and bring them to the center.

In Berkeley and Jefferson counties, the training center serves 360 people and operates on a $8.6 million annual budget, Galperin said.

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