PROVIDENCE ON SIDE OF DISABLED

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Individuals have the right to dignity and respect. Given the opportunity, all developmentally disabled adults can become more independentand thus able to play a valuable functioning role in society. -- Providence Center creed.

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Sneaker-clad Sylvia Williams putters around the small kitchen in Miss Nancy's Fancy Bakery in Annapolis, picking up a container of shortening and grabbing bread pans from nearby shelves.

The bakery's owner, Nancy Karpel, decided to hire the Providence Center client on a recommendation of a friend.

The non-profit organization, locatedin Arnold, offers day-care programs, in-house or "sheltered" and supportive employment to developmentally disabled adults in Anne ArundelCounty. The center is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a dinner-dance Saturday at Loews Annapolis Hotel.

The 28-year-old Williams, who is mentally retarded, first went to the center in 1984. She haddifficulty speaking, often stuttered and repeated everything she heard. Now she's working.

"She'd (owner Nancy Karpel) had so much trouble getting people to work," said Laura Jonkel, one of Williams' co-workers. "But Sylvia is an A-number-one dishwasher and so reliable. "She's really improved. She even initiates questions about other people," Jonkel said.

Before the shy, green-eyed Williams landed the job at the Annapolis bakery almost a year ago, the Providence Center had placed her in positions at Earthtones, the agency's retail store inArnold, and a TJ Cinnamon's outlet.

"I like working here. I like doing the dishes for Miss Nancy," Williams said.

In addition to working six days a week, Williams spends Wednesday nights in an adult education class with non-disabled adults at Parole Elementary School, preparing to get her GED.

Williams is just one of Providence Center's success stories.

In 1961, Tom Baldwin, one of the center's founders, donated a tiny farmhouse on Spa Road in Annapolis for seven severely mentally handicapped children the school system did not want, said Peter Raffa, the center's director of development.

In 1978, federal law gave all children, regardless of disability, the right to attend public schools. That year the non-profit, tuition-free pilot day-care center for the county's disabled adults opened its doors.

Today, Providence Center offers vocational training, sheltered and supportive employment, job development and placement services to 375 adults with disabilities, including Down's syndrome and slight psychiatric disorders.

The Providence Center's $5.2 million annual budget comes from matching county, state and local money through the state Department of Mental Hygiene. Donations, fund-raisers, Social Securityand Medicaid also bring in some money.

"They learn good job ethics and get out into supportive employment," says administrator Chris McGowen. "These people want to work. There's no reason to feel sorry for them."

"It's the chance to lead a fuller life," said Pat Hudson, executive director of Providence Center.

At the center's Arnold location, disabled adults come in for the day to work in the sheltered workshops -- four greenhouses and a pottery studio.

The pottery,along with wood products, wreaths and plants, are offered for sale in Earthtones stores on Church Road in Arnold and on Maryland Avenue in Annapolis. Each creation is individually signed and clients work ona piece-rate pay scale.

Although Earthtones stores are managed bycenter employees, clients work in the stores, making wreaths and helping to sell their crafts.

Bridget Donahue, 25, works at Earthtones making wreaths four days a week. "I like working at Earthtones, because the people are so nice," says Donahue.

Providence Center's other sheltered workshops include Baldwin Industries, a packaging planton Ritchie Highway, and Kinder Farm in Severna Park, where herbs anddried flowers are grown.

In addition to operating the sheltered workshops, the agency's Employment Services Center in Arnold helps clients find full- and part-time jobs. "Clients use Earthtones as a laststop before a 'real' job," McGowen said. "But they are given the choice of what they want to do. Ultimately it is their choice, because they are adults."

Jeanette Murphy, the job developer at Employment Services, spends hours each week looking through help-wanted listings, making phone calls and attending Chamber of Commerce mixers, finding jobs for her clients.

"For the most part, clients are hired because they have a desire to work and make money," Murphy said. "But most companies are entitled to a tax break (for hiring the center's clients).

"At Providence Center, clients learn acting disabled is not tolerated," says McGowen. "They develop job appropriateness, such as saying hello and shaking hands. But they know they have to go back towork and do the job well," he said.

"Everything -- wages, hours and expectations are normalized," says McGowen, "Clients are treated as (regular) employees.

"They know if they get out of hand, they can be fired. It's a real job."

Nearly 250 jobs have been found for the center's clients since 1986.

Once an employer hires a client, the center sends one of eight "job coaches" to discuss problems that may arise when working with a disabled adult.

The coach learns thejob and in turn teaches it to the client by breaking down each job into a series of steps. Then, the coach spends about three weeks on the job site with the client to continue training and help smooth out problems. As a client gains increasing independence, the coach visits only twice a month.

The workplace is a lot less threatening when broken down into simple tasks, adds Schultz.

Employment Services also sponsors a monthly Job Club, where clients meet to talk about workissues, such as appropriate dress and how to communicate with co-workers. A recent talk stressed table manners. Usually clients who lose jobs do so because of inappropriate social behavior, not because theycan't do the work.

The Providence Center's newest addition, the Career Center on West Street in Annapolis, helps disabled adults with a vocational evaluation. Individual skills are assessed, and available jobs are discussed.

The next step is job sampling. A client volunteers two to three hours of time at a business to decide if the job is satisfactory.

"It's very difficult to get the right person in the right job with just test scores," said Hudson.

"The most important aspect of creating jobs for the disabled is that they become taxpayers rather than tax recipients," said Peter Raffa, director of development.

At Miss Nancy's, Williams finished greasing the baking pans, wiped her hands on her apron and looked up. "I did a real nice job, huh? I did a real nice job?" she said, obviously pleased with herself.

"She keeps us all clean. We would probably grind to a sticky halt if she weren't here," said her co-worker, Laura Jonkel.

Information about volunteering, donations and attending the fund-raisers: Peter Raffa, 267-0701.

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