When she talks about the clients who have come and gone at Burke Industries Nacogdoches workshop over the years, longtime vocational specialist Linda Hayter can’t help but smile.
“Some aren’t very friendly at first,” she said of the approximately 30 adults with developmental disabilities who come to the facility during the day. About half of the clients live at home with parents or relatives, while others live in group homes. Just like anyone, they are leery of a brand new environment and new standards to meet. “They might frown and say, ‘I don’t clean the table at home.’ But once they’re here a while, they meet friends; they learn a lot. They really mature,” Hayter said.
A peer group is sometimes a missing piece for those clients who have always lived at home, says Deidra Davis, who came on board in February as the “Day Hab” director for Burke Industries, overseeing five workshops in Nacogdoches, San Augustine, Polk, Angelina and Jasper counties. “Some of them may have only been around their parents and their parents’ friends,” she said. “We had one client whose mother said she had never heard him laugh.”
In the next room, a frightening story unfolded on the dangers of bull-riding. “That bull’s horn went right through the guy’s heart,” said its narrator, pointing a watercolor brush at her fellow artists in the peer group for emphasis.
Some of its clients outgrow the center altogether. Hayter recalls a client who, ready to live and work on his own, recently moved away. “I cried and cried,” she said.
Learning and Earning
Tuesday is “cooking day” at the Nacogdoches workshop. Having recently mastered scrambled eggs, the group is perfecting the art of grilled cheese sandwiches. Day activities also include watercolor and mosaic art, exercise, and gardening. “We’re going to be planting cucumbers, tomatoes, and squash,” Hayter said. “Then we’ll cook what we grow.”
A separate group of clients make up the work crew that goes out in the mornings with supervisors. Through agreements with local businesses, they earn their own spending money for doing tasks such as sorting, assembly, litter control, grounds maintenance and other jobs. Those who remain at the day center can earn spending money, too, by assembling mesh produce bags and shredding documents for two hours in the afternoons. “It depends on their interest, their likes, and dislikes,” Davis said.
“Everyone wants to feel at the end of the day they’ve done meaningful work,” she said, “and the money they earn goes back into the community because they spend it right here in Nacogdoches.” Davis’ goals for the workshops are to increase both the number of clients as well as jobs available. “I’d like to double enrollment here,” she said of the local workshop, which typically has about 10 to 15 clients daily. Clients enroll through the Burke Center’s intake division located in Lufkin. For information, call the Lufkin intake office at 800-621-1523.