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Developmentally disabled work crew earns its place

May 22, 1999|By ANDREA ROWLAND

Dreams of a new goldfish fueled Sandy Snyder's broom. Barbara Perrie scrubbed the wastebasket with a mission in mind: a new suitcase with wheels.

As Robin Wagner dusted, and Lynn Taylor gathered trash cans, both smiled at the thought of sending flowers to their mothers, again.

Earning money for such expenditures may not seem like a big deal to many in the work force.

But to the developmentally disabled members of the Anita Lynne Home cleaning crew, work represents hope - and freedom.

Gripping matching Playmate lunch coolers, the group gaily mounted the stairs to the offices of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites one Monday morning in May.

They looked forward to coming to work.

"I like this job. Everybody talks to me. They are friendly to me," Perrie said.

Often, people with developmental disabilities lead "invisible lives," said Patricia Barber, marketing director for the Anita Lynne Home.

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The cleaning crew's success within the community has helped crew members escape this "psychological ghetto," which is imposed on them as much by the abled world as by their own disabilities, Barber said.

Supervised by Crew Leader Louella Burkett, four members of the crew - Perrie, 57; Snyder, 37; Wagner, 36; and Taylor, 42 - spend some five hours weekly cleaning the APCWS offices.

Crew member Dottie Fox, 47, who uses a wheelchair, doesn't feel comfortable at the APCWS site, Burkett said.

The women take great pride in their work.

"When we do a job, a job we're getting paid for, how are we supposed to do the job," Burkett asked Sandy.

"We have to do the job right," Sandy replied.

Robert K. Edmiston, chief operating officer of APCWS, said the organization has enjoyed a cooperative working relationship with the Anita Lynne Home.

Located on 162 acres just west of Hagerstown, the home is a private, nonprofit facility licensed by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

It is a community of 35 adults with developmental disabilities.

Each resident is a member of one of five work crews. Supported by abled crew leaders, the residents work on tasks designed to teach new skills, increase independence, and foster cooperation.

While the Anita Lynne Home doesn't ask the cleaning crew's clients for a specific amount of money, customers make financial contributions, Barber said.

Burkett, who has worked at ALH for 20 years, acts as the group's banker.

"My accounting work is cutting into my other work," she joked.

Contribution amounts vary depending upon the job, and each crew member receives her own money, Burkett said.

For the first time in their lives, the women have been able to treat themselves to lunches out, nice toiletries and gifts for their friends and families, Barber said.

"I bought my mom flowers. She liked them. She smelled them," Sandy said.

Burkett said she has worked with Sandy for some 15 years, and the cleaning crew teamed up in 1996.

In an effort to integrate into the community, the crew began cleaning Broadfording Brethren Church, which is "close to home," in 1997, Burkett said.

They soon expanded to nearby St. Ann's Catholic Church, Yogi Jellystone Park in Williamsport, and took their biggest assignment - the Civil War Sites building- in 1998, Burkett said.

She said when she first scoped out the new job, she thought, "This is huge. This is huge."

It wasn't just the size of the building.

At first, just getting to the job site was an adventure, Burkett said. There was dealing with inclement weather, getting everybody loaded into the van, parking and crossing busy Potomac Street, she said.

One cleaning crew member is fearful of sirens. Another woman is easily distracted, Burkett said.

The crew leader's attentions are often divided, she said.

"But the things that were obstacles in the beginning are not as difficult, anymore," Burkett said.

After one year, the crew has found its groove.

"I'm very pleased with how far we've come," Burkett said.

Sandy is a pro at baseboards. Robin is a master duster. Perrie and Lynn tag-team wastebasket scrubbing. They vacuum, mop floors and carry trash to outdoor bins.

"They clean far better than anybody I've ever been around," Edmiston said. "You can eat soup out of the wastebaskets when they're done," he added.

Burkett spends much of her time shuttling among crew members, giving instruction and encouragement.

"Get on your knees and rub real hard," Burkett told Robin, who was trying her hand at the baseboards. "That's it, now you're putting the elbow grease in it. That's real good," Burkett said.

Sandy sat cross-legged on a bathroom floor and wiped the floorboards.

"Get 'em good, San. Make sure you're catching all the spots, hon," Burkett told Sandy.

"Lou, I did my toilet. I did my toilet all by myself," a smiling Sandy told her boss.

Burkett said the most rewarding aspect of her work is seeing this sense of accomplishment bloom within the members of her crew.

"Want to see me sweep," Sandy asked as she pulled a broom from a nearby closet.

Lynn worked under the tutelage of Perrie, scrubbing the wastebaskets.

"We work as a team," Perrie said. "If two people help, it gets done faster," she added.

Eventually, Burkett said she hopes to hire the crew out on a more professional basis. Following a six-month trial, she said she would like to contract the crew for a set sum.

"They really have a lot to give," Burkett said.

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