Rowan Vocational Opportunities moves into new space

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Lee Ann Sides Garrett
The room was filled with animated voices and smiles. On one side of the room, Wilson Cherry worked with clients, organizing them into a “train.”
“Yellow means what?” Cherry asked.
“Slow down!” enthusiastic voices called back.
Cherry is part of a team that teaches life and work skills to clients with disabilities at Rowan Vocational Opportunities. Cherry’s group has been training in a much bigger room since July ó thanks to a new, larger facility.
Rowan Vocational’s current 38,000-square-foot facility on Old Concord Road recently grew an additional 4,000 square feet with the opening of a new wing.
“The state wants more people out of institutions,” says Sales and Marketing Director Glenn McDonald. “And this is the alternative.”
McDonald refers to the training clients receive at Rowan Vocational Opportunities, which allows them to work in the community and live in group homes.
Most clients live at home or in group homes and attend day sessions at the nonprofit agency from about 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The agencies teaches clients life skills ó such as attention to task, sorting, matching, fine motor skills and gross motor skills ó which can also be applied to jobs.
The old facility was expanded so Rowan Vocational could accommodate more clients. Training space on the first floor more than doubled. The downstairs has both modular and fixed offices as well as large cubicles for clients to train in.
According to John Williams, the relatively new president of Rowan Vocational Opportunities, the program serves 27 Community Alternatives Program/Innovations clients and 185 clients altogether. Shortly before the expansion, Rowan Vocational had to take the unprecedented step of turning away four clients because the agency lacked space.
“Turning away families is a shame,” says Rowan Vocation Qualified Professional Scott Brown, “especially when it’s something like square footage holding you back.”
McDonald says the program is also growing because clients live longer now.
“Health care is better,” he says. “We’ve had clients in their 70s.”
Williams says the expansion cost more than $600,000, and the work was done almost entirely by local businesses. Masonry instructors and students from West and South Rowan high schools also poured the concrete courtyard.
Upstairs, the building boasts 18,000 square feet of work space and a 10,000-square-foot warehouse. Clients can use the skills they learn to perform small assembly or sorting jobs for local companies.
Clients assemble basic parts for panel boxes for General Electric and pull apart cardboard and do assembly jobs for Hitachi Metals.
They also work in a group that picks up paper from local businesses, shreds it using a commercial shredder and recycles it. Rowan Vocational clients recycle about four 400-pound boxes of shredded paper a day, Brown said.
The agency negotiates fees with the businesses and the clients receive a paycheck.
“The employees at Hitachi don’t have time to pull apart the cardboard used in their processes,” McDonald explained. “So we’re performing a service for them. It works out well for everyone.”
Of Rowan Vocational’s $2.5 million budget, more than $400,000 goes to client wages, Brown said. Rowan Vocational Opportunities is a United Way Agency.
“Everybody who works here receives a paycheck,” McDonald said. “It gives them a sense of accomplishment.”