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Businesses honored for their work with Turning Point

June 30, 2005|by MARIE GILBERT

They are school lunch aides and fast-food workers. They bag groceries at area supermarkets and bus tables at upscale restaurants.

People with cognitive disabilities are working toward independence with the help of the area businesses who provide opportunities and support.

Employers who have partnered with Turning Point of Washington County in a pilot program were recognized by the nonprofit organization Tuesday evening at a reception held at Marcel's in downtown Hagerstown.

Turning Point, established in 1979, is Washington County's oldest provider of psychiatric rehabilitation. Its goal is to help people with mental illness improve their mental health, attain skills and gain access to the support necessary to lead independent lives.

Two years ago, through the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Turning Point implemented a model that Dartmouth College developed for supported employment.

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Through this program, individuals with disabilities are matched with area businesses according to skills and interest.

"The businesses we are honoring tonight have given work opportunities to individuals who otherwise might not have a job," said Catherine Wesmiller, Supported Employment Program manager with Turning Point.

"This reception is a way of showing our appreciation," she said.

Receiving Employer Appreciation plaques as honorees for 2005 were Schmankerl Stube Restaurant, Marcel's Bakery and Cafe, and Martin's Food Market stores on Pennsylvania Avenue and Dual Highway.

According to Peter Shubiak, executive director of Turning Point, 14 of 22 people in the program are employed by area businesses.

"That is 65 percent employment," he said. "Prior to participating in the pilot program, our employment rate was 33 percent. So we've seen our outcomes soar."

Shubiak said Turning Point is "extremely grateful for the opportunity to work with area businesses and provide them with competent and dependable employees."

"It's been a wonderful relationship," said Doug Anders, customer operations manager at Martin's Food Market on the Dual Highway.

"It's a great honor for the store to participate in this program. I think it's been a very successful, very positive experience for everyone involved," he added.

Anders said customers also have been receptive to the program and know many of the workers on a first-name basis.

"It's a good feeling for everyone," Anders said. "We depend on the workers to do a job and that makes them feel like they're needed, like they belong. It's a winning situation for everyone."

Shubiak said the goal of the program is to help people with disabilities become independent, but support is provided, both by Turning Point and the employer.

"We never abandon them," he said. "We do all we can to make this venture successful for everyone."

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