Congresssman Rob Woodall tours Creative Enterprises campus
Lawrenceville – Leigh McIntosh, Executive Director of Creative Enterprises, Inc., in Lawrenceville, can’t help smiling as she talks about her clients. Proud of the center’s programs for adults with disabilities, McIntosh can’t speak fast enough as she explains who Creative Enterprises serves, and how.
Figuring out how to best serve adults with disabilities has long been a conundrum for communities. Some experts say that such adults are better off being in the mainstream community, working and living alongside other adults without disabilities. “And I agree, that is the best case scenario,” McIntosh said. “But that’s not for everybody. Some adults are not capable of getting and maintaining a job as we know it, but there has to be something out there for them.”
Creative Enterprises is that “something.” An impressive but quiet campus tucked away on Hi-Hope Road in Lawrenceville, the center currently serves 162 disabled adults. That is 162 human beings with worth, who have a compelling reason to get up every day, get dressed, and go to a place that they love, are loved, and feel safe. That is 162 people learning to do something that they enjoy and being part of a community.
“We practice something called ‘person-centered planning here,” said McIntosh, explaining how disabled adults are served daily on the multi-building campus. When clients are referred to Creative Enterprises, the staff meet with that person and the family, deciding as a group how the individual is best served. If a client expresses an interest in learning skills to pave the way to employment, then he is able to choose classes quarterly that help him achieve that goal. “We also offer job placement for those individuals,” said McIntosh.
Many clients are not able, nor will they ever be able, to work in the mainstream community. That does not, however, mean that they cannot find meaningful and enjoyable activities at Creative Enterprises. Vernon and Carolyn McLean’s son Mike is a wonderful example of that very principle. A client since 1982, “Mike thinks this place can’t run without him,” Vernon chuckled. At 54 years of age, Mike knows a feeling of purpose, and that he is needed. He particularly enjoys the campus cats, and he makes it his business to be sure that they are well fed.
If a client wants to learn about animals, the campus houses a licensed animal shelter strictly for cats. Students like Mike are involved in their care and feeding. Cats are also available for adoption to the public. If a client expresses an interest in gardening, there is a full-scale greenhouse on campus, as well as outdoor gardening areas. There is an art building, where clients paint and draw in vivid colors and patterns, most of their own design. Clients also work in the thrift store on campus, a venture that offers items for sale that have been donated by those in the community. The public is welcome to purchase plants, art and other items for sale throughout the year.
Clients can choose from cooking, nutrition and exercise classes at Creative Enterprises. They learn about the cost of living and how to budget. They choose monthly outings, such as a trip to a restaurant or a play at the Aurora Theatre. Clients are nurtured and encouraged to grow in the direction that they choose, and the results are evident everywhere that there is activity on campus.
McIntosh, staff members and Creative Enterprises Board members Karl Heisman, Allan Carroll and McLean and his wife Carolyn were on hand Wednesday, ready to greet Congressman Rob Woodall to give him a tour of the entire campus. Woodall, in town for several events honoring Veterans’ Day, walked and listened as McIntosh and Heisman explained what goes on in various classes, and how those classes benefit the participants. With an average 1:10 ratio of instructors to students, complex concepts are explained with hands-on instruction and an appropriately-paced class. In the Art Building, where students were busily painting and drawing, Woodall asked about a collection of painted ornaments hanging in rows.
“They are building a rainbow tree,” said McIntosh. The tree will be made of all of the primary and tertiary colors (“ROYGBIV,” as any art student has learned), and from the looks of the ornaments, the end result will be spectacular. “I think the artists are more interested in ‘ROY’ than ‘G’ or ‘BIV,’” Woodall joked, noting that there were many more Red, Orange and Yellow ornaments than Green, Blue, Indigo or Violet. But the artists aren’t finished yet.
In the greenhouse, McIntosh and Heisman explained to Woodall that all of the work – seeding, growing and watering – is done by clients. An instructor is on site to keep things organized and to teach clients the basics of growing and caring for plants, but the bulk of the work is performed by eager and enthusiastic participants. They even keep a close watch on the weather, as meteorologist Jennifer Narramore provides daily forecasts for Creative Enterprises’ Weather Station Facebook page; the words she uses to describe weather conditions are geared for client understanding, and the translations can be entertaining to listeners.
The newest addition to the bustling campus is the old American Red Cross building that was formerly situated adjacent to Creative Enterprises. Now a part of the CE campus, a new parking lot has been added as well, all acquisitions made possible by a block grant, according to Carroll. “We need Creative Enterprises now more than ever, since so many government agencies that used to serve these people have been shut down,” said Carroll, who serves on the board simply because he sees the need for such a program in the community. “What would these people do without this place?”
Woodall visited every area of the Creative Enterprise campus, asking questions about how the clients benefit from various programs. “Is any of this art for sale? Because it’s beautiful,” the congressman asked McIntosh. In the main building on campus, clients’ art is priced for sale. Colorful necklaces, pieces of pottery and other creations are proudly displayed in the front lobby. The art is whimsical and vibrant, created by artists whose talent knows no bounds in that arena. Each piece is handcrafted and unique.
The congressman from District 7 summed up the Wednesday tour and the Creative Enterprises program well when he said, “This place is fantastic. You’re all doing great things here.”