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Jefferson Center puts the disabled to work

May 16, 2010|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. -- Two years ago, East Ridge Health Systems, in a time of financial straits, closed the Jefferson Center, a sheltered workshop for mentally and physically disabled adults on South Mildred Street in Ranson, W.Va.

The workshop's closing caused hardships for parents like Tammy Spiker and Libby Nester, and their children who went there.

Two days a week, a Medicaid-provided bus drove the Jefferson County clients to the Grove Center, a sheltered workshop on Cumbo Road in Hedgesville, W.Va. Parents were responsible for driving their children there the rest of the week.

"It was a long way over there to Hedgesville," said Nester, whose daughter, Jessica Alford, 26, had been going to the Jefferson Center since she left high school.

"We were kind of lost," said Spiker, whose three adopted sons, ages 30, 29 and 28, also went to the sheltered workshop.

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"My boys went there for seven years. They were lost when it closed. They loved it there," Spiker said.

Students with mental and physical disabilities can stay in high school until they are 21; then they can take advantage of sheltered workshops or other programs.

At sheltered workshops, companies bring jobs like simple assembly work and mailings to the facility. Clients also may go off-site to do lawn maintenance and janitorial work.

They earn wages depending on their ability. The centers also offers prevocational and similar support programs for those too disabled to work.

On April 1, at 301 N. Mildred St. in Charles Town, the Jefferson County Council on Aging opened a new Jefferson Center with a new mission.

"It has nothing to do with a sheltered workshop. We want to get away from that stigma," said Shawnna Molina, executive director of the Jefferson County Council on Aging. "This is a day rehabilitation, prevocational, community-involved center," she said.

Paul Macom, director of East Ridge Health Systems, said there are 31 sheltered workshops in West Virginia doing well with no plans to change. He said there is no stigma attached to the sheltered workshop system.

The new Jefferson Center has 18 clients, or consumers, the preferred title, with room for up to 30, Molina said. The paid staff includes Kathy Garza, the center director, and five instructors.

Instead of companies bringing work to the center, clients will be picked up at home by their instructors and taken to job sites, Garza said.

Instructors remain with and train clients on the job. One instructor can work with several clients at a time.

The goal is to integrate center clients with the workers.

"The trend is moving away from sheltered workshops," Garza said.

She sees possible work sites for center clients in area local, state and federal government facilities.

"This can be very exciting once we're up and running," she said.

Clients with severe disabilities also go to the center to be among their peers.

Nester said her daughter Rebecca suffers from severe cerebral palsy and seizures.

"She's nonverbal and stays in a wheelchair," she said.

But Jessica, who went through high school with other students with disabilities, "is happy to be back together with her friends at the center," her mother said. "She comes home happy and smiling every day. She has a purpose in her life."

"The center is wonderful. I'm very impressed with the staff," Spiker said. "My heavens, but my guys really love it there."

She said her sons "were kind of lost" when the old center in Ranson closed. "They're hoping to get contract work soon. It gives them a sense of accomplishment."

Those who enter the Jefferson center on any day will see a room full of smiles and laughter.

"It's an awesome facility," Spiker said. "We're so honored to be part of it."

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