09/20/04 — Wayne Opportunity Center needs help

View Archive

Wayne Opportunity Center needs help

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on September 20, 2004 1:58 PM

The Wayne Opportunity Center has been helping the disabled of Goldsboro for 40 years. Now it needs Wayne County's help.

During its last fiscal year, the Opportunity Center lost $100,000 in assembly work, said Evelyn White, production manager. More than half of its annual budget comes from contract work with industries.

"That's not because the clients weren't doing quality work," she said, "but because businesses went under and the economy was bad."

She said the center has lost a variety of assembly work. The center's clients used to cut a lot of materials and pillows and reupholster chair bottoms. All that work has been lost.

Carol Bender, director, said the center is looking for any kind of work -- packaging, assembly, mailings. "We'll do just about anything," she said. "And we offer quality work at competitive prices."

Work can be either a one-time job or a long-term contract. The center's clients can even go out to a business for a job, which they have done in the past.

Why might a company take its business to the Opportunity Center?

"Because we're good," said Mrs. Bender. "We take time to do the job right. We've got a labor force that's already in place. We can turn any job around quickly. And we work well with industry and its staff."

Having lost so much work recently, the center has not been able to replace staff that leave and has even had to use some of its reserve funds to keep running, according to Mrs. Bender.

"But it hasn't caused us to serve any less people," she said. "We still serve about 100 clients a day. They have varying degrees of disability, but are hard workers."

The loss of work has also affected the clients. "It's almost like being laid off," Mrs. Bender said. "The clients are just sitting there doing other activities. They are just like the rest of us -- they are happier when they are busy."

Mrs. Bender said the center is expanding its recycling program, but that's not the only work it does. She said the center needs to keep all its departments running.

"The clients here consume work," she said. "For example, we have a big job come in and think 'Oh boy, this is going to give them five days of work' and two days later we're going 'Oh God, what are we going to do, they've already finished that job.'"

Other departments at the center include packaging, assembling, refinishing, woodworking. In the past, clients have packaged medical supplies including artificial skin and gloves, packaged first aid kits and surgical kits, refinished furniture, built heat exchangers, stuffed pillows and edged and buffed gaskets. They currently do the Chamber of Commerce mailings.

Mrs. White said the more variety of work the center can get, the better job training for its clients. "We want to see what they are capable of doing," she said. "Our goal is to place them in the community. So the more work we can get, that means more hands-on training for the clients and it's a win-win situation for the business and the clients."

She said that when the clients first come to the Opportunity Center, they have no clue about what they're supposed to be doing since they've never been in the workforce before. The center tries to instill good work habits in them and then add in the work part by showing them how to do a job properly, watching them do it one time, leaving and then going back later to check their work.

"Once they've got it, they've got it," said Mrs. White. "Then they'll tell you if you've done something wrong."

She said once a client's production is good, and he shows that he really cares and wants to do a good job, it's time to get him out into the workforce. "And whoever gets them, they've got a good worker. They are dedicated and take pride in their work.'

The Opportunity Center was started in 1964 by a group of concerned residents who saw the need to provide job training services to the disabled of Wayne County. The center originally served about 60 clients a day.

Since 1992, more than 480 disabled, chronically unemployed clients have left the center to become employed in the community, according to Mrs. Bender.

"If we had to shut down, there would be 100 disabled people in this community with no income or work," she said. "The last survey I read, about three percent of the population of Wayne County has an identifiable disability. Even if they end up staying at the center for a long period of time, the income they earn here goes back into this community."

"Being here gives them such high self-esteem because they've got somewhere to come to," Mrs. White said. "They can get up in the morning, get dressed and come here instead of getting up and doing nothing."

Anyone or any business with a job that can be done by clients at the Wayne Opportunity Center may call 735-5363.