05/16/07 — O'Berry will enlist help of center's retirees for Ambassador program

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O'Berry will enlist help of center's retirees for Ambassador program

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 16, 2007 1:45 PM

Ada Melvin began working at O'Berry Center in the 1950s, witnessing many changes until her retirement in 1990.

But nothing prepared her for what she found when she returned recently.

"A personal and individual bedroom? A kitchen, organized like that. My mouth just dropped. I was floored," she said.

It's almost like a new place, she told other former employees who gathered Tuesday for an organizational meeting of the Ambassador program, of which Ms. Melvin has been named coordinator.

The program, she said, could be described as "a group of ladies and gentlemen with a heart for O'Berry, to serve as liaison for O'Berry and the community, selling what's here."

Dr. Frank Farrell, director of the center, had the vision, Ms. Melvin said, and encouraged her to head it up.

"Our main objective will be to make sure that the city, the county and the state know about O'Berry Center," she said. "That's going to be our job."

Farrell said the program has the potential to grow in whatever direction its volunteers choose.

"It's not just a simple facet," he said this morning. "However they would like to be involved ... the focus is to reach out to retirees by giving them a way to reconnect with the center."

Doretha Branch, who worked at O'Berry until retiring in 1988, attended Tuesday's meeting and tour of the center.

"I'm just interested in the facility, the progress that it continues to make, also to renew friendships and acquaintances," she said.

Nearing 81, Ms. Branch said she's been told, "It's time to slow down," but doesn't show any signs of heeding that advice. She already volunteers around the community and opted to also serve at her former workplace.

"It's so gratifying for yourself and the people you're helping," she said. "It's my ministry."

Dennis Mays, coordinator of professional services at O'Berry, said the new program reflects the shift in services at the center. What started out as a school and became more of a hospital setting and intermediate care facility for the mentally retarded, he said, now focuses on the importance of building relationships.

"Do we call them residents? Do we call them clients?" Mays said. "You know what we call them? People. Sometimes they learn faster, or slower, but the important thing is we're here to serve them. As we have moved from active treatment to person-treated, we want to be sure that they have a good quality of life."

The state has asked O'Berry to consider a new way of doing business, Mays said. And that means becoming a specialized nursing facility for people with developmental disabilities.

He said he hopes the new ambassadors will help with that task.

The Ambassador program is not designed to replace the existing health care retiree program, Ms. Melvin said. Instead, it will promote continued participation by former employees, allowing them to become "re-involved."

In addition to holding monthly meetings, organizers propose there will be a variety of opportunities for service. Already planned are a memorabilia and scrapbooking program, allowing volunteers to contribute to a permanent exhibition of O'Berry's history; providing support for group homes by organizing community and school groups to "adopt" a home for special events; and representing the center on volunteer boards and organizations associated with the center.

Retirees from O'Berry or past employees interested in participating in the Ambassador program are invited to call Ms. Melvin at 581-4066.