For almost 50 years, Thomas Grady Service Center and the ARC has prided themselves in helping others.
On Tuesday, the center opened its doors to show the community the benefits of allowing all citizens to participate and make a difference.
According to Thomas Grady Service Center Director Tony Gelabert, it has become a tradition to have an open house once a year.
“We like to be able to invite the ARC, families and the community to an open house — and to also thank the ARC. We show them the facility and what we are doing here. We want people to get to know us,” said Gelabert.
Each year, Thomas Grady Service Center is becoming more and more involved with the community.
Gelabert said, “We are becoming just like any other organization in the community and we are no longer the program that is set aside from the others. There is a lot of volunteering and working coming from us in the community.”
Thomas Grady Service Center, now an agency of the Thomas County Board of Health, officially opened its doors in Thomasville in 1967. It was developed by the local ARC to provide services to the people of Thomas and Grady counties who have development disabilities.
Today, services are provided to approximately 150 people with development disabilities in the two counties.
Some of the programs include job placement, residential services, transportation and day-habilitation to help disabled people with everyday living skills. It also has a small facility in Cairo to help with day-habilitation activities.
Its facilities are set up to benefit and fit the needs of everyone.
During the open house, a tour was provided by Thomas Grady Service Center social worker Andrew Brown and two workers, Eric Sumner and Nicky Brown. Together, they showed guests the different elements of the facility, which consists of a warehouse and classrooms.
The warehouse is used as a workplace for the developmentally disabled workers. They have supervisors to assist and train them for their specific tasks.
The work program room fits about 60. Thomas Grady Service Center brings the work to the people from outside sources. It has contracts with TECT, Kenro Industries and Oil-Dri.
Workers spend their time learning and accomplishing jobs by putting boxes together, placing bubble wrap in boxes and making corner blocks for the shipment of windows.
The work program is set up in an assembly line style so workers will be able to complete tasks efficiently and not become overwhelmed.
For workers who may become overwhelmed and frustrated throughout the day, there is a relaxation room that has dim lighting and calming music. There is also an exercise room furnished by the YMCA. Throughout the day, the staff likes to incorporate exercise into their routine at least twice a day, especially for the workers who are not as mobile as others.
Janet Stewart, supervisor of day-habilitation activities, said, “We bring interests from the community into the classrooms. We even have a hairdressing classroom for those interested in that. It’s not only about teaching them a work skill, but also about life and culture. There really is something for everyone.”
Classrooms are set up for the workers to learn from one another as well as society.
“They learn about how people live differently and find out about each other. Assimilation is the goal,” said Stewart.
Covering the walls of the hallway in the classroom area are works of art by the workers. They have an artist of the month featured and a personal support board where anyone in the agency can be recognized for their outstanding achievements.
Sumner, who has been with Thomas Grady Service Center for about 15 years, has many jobs that the service center has helped him obtain.
He said, “I work with the yard crew and clean, too.”
Sumner is also the president of Thomas Grady Service Center’s club “The Enforcers.” The club is comprised of people who work at the center.
“We bring things to the attention of Thomas Grady Service Center and the ARC,” said Sumner.
For 20 years, Brown, 42, has been coming to Thomas Grady Service Center. Today, she is a member of the ARC Board.
She helps the board plan activities for Thomas Grady Service Center.
“Thomas Grady Service Center and the board as helped me a whole lot. We talk about center activities and what we plan to do,” said Brown.
Reporter Susanne Reynolds can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1826.