04/01/07 — O'Berry marking its 50th birthday

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O'Berry marking its 50th birthday

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 1, 2007 2:10 AM

O'Berry Center celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, with an array of activities and events planned to commemorate the occasion.

The state-operated facility, which serves individuals with developmental disabilities, has a distinguished history of providing quality services and innovative programs, said Dr. Frank Farrell, center director.

To that end, a speaker's bureau has been formed and recently began offering Power Point presentations about O'Berry's past, present and future.

The short program, said Branch Pope of the public relations committee, is available free to civic clubs, church groups, schools and others in the community interested in learning more about the center.

"It's a virtual tour of O'Berry Center," he said.

Goldsboro Training School opened in 1957 as a school for blacks with developmental disabilities, housing 150 patients between the ages of 6 and 25. Its largest population was in 1964, when there were 1,081 residents and 1,177 staff members.

In 1959, it was renamed O'Berry School after former Sen. Thomas O'Berry of Goldsboro. It became O'Berry Center in 1963. The state integrated all its facilities in 1965 and O'Berry began serving 17 counties.

Over the years, O'Berry has transitioned from a school to a regional center focused primarily on serving adults with severe and profound mental retardation. The emphasis shifted to basic skills training in such areas as self-care, home living and work programs.

Because of downsizing, more communities opening group homes and services added through school systems, O'Berry is no longer a facility for children.

Today, officials say, there are 286 individuals served, more than 52 percent over 50. Seventy percent of them have significant health challenges.

"We're evolving into a long-term nursing facility," Farrell said. With an older population served, there is a shift to meet their changing needs.

Pope explained that the drop in numbers does not mean the center is on the decline.

"We're holding at 286 because parents and guardians don't want them going anywhere else," he said. And while O'Berry might currently serve 17 counties, that is expected to be expanded to more than 60 counties in the next year, he added.

Admissions in the future will possibly be older patients with medical needs to be addressed by staff, said Bob Dively, special projects coordinator at O'Berry.

In addition to responding to medical and physical needs, the center also prides itself on creating a comfortable home atmosphere. Clusters, the buildings on campus where residents live, feature spacious kitchens and living areas the individuals can decorate themselves. They also get to shop for and prepare their own meals, and can participate in a variety of therapeutic activities.

These range from creative as well as vocational services such as pottery, crafts and painting, with items available for sale to the public. Dogs, cats and rabbits are brought on the campus weekly to interact with the residents, with horseback riding offered elsewhere. Swimming can be enjoyed in the center's outdoor pool during the summer months, at the Family Y in the winter.

Since Farrell became director nearly two years ago, he has worked hard to build a bridge between the center and the community. Activities like the community extravaganza around July 4, concerts and Christmas programs have been inclusive of the public to allow others to experience what the center is doing.

The center's newly introduced logo reflects that. "Hand in Hand -- A Tradition of Excellence" was designed by employees at the center, Pope said.

"We feel like our staff and our clients out here work hand in hand," he explained.

Equally important, added Linda Jones of volunteer services, "We want to be hand in hand with our community."

The new logo will be featured on several products, which will be sold through Berry Towne Gifts. Among the items officials anticipate will be T-shirts, golf shirts and regular shirts, hats and visors.

The 50th anniversary is the perfect time to incorporate such efforts. From May through December, there will be a slate of events for those at the center as well as previous employees and the public.

The kick off event is planned for May 23, when current, past and retired employees will come together to celebrate.

On June 26, the summer community extravaganza and fireworks display will be held.

The formal celebration of the 50th anniversary is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 7, coinciding with the center's anniversary month.

Then in December, a once-popular event is being resurrected -- the O'Berry Christmas parade.

"It used to go all around the campus. Every cluster built a float," Pope said. Dormant for more than 20 years, he said they are plans to bring it back this year.

"We're in the process, thinking about having it the same time as Cherry (Hospital), so people could bring their floats up here."

In the meantime, the public relations committee is working diligently to get the word out about O'Berry's rich heritage and ongoing mission to provide important services. It has also long been a valuable and vital contributor in the county, Pope noted.

"By the numbers, our budget was $50.5 million for the year, so we affect the economy here in Wayne County. With 984 full-time employees, we and Cherry together are only behind Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in having the largest number of employees."