ST. PETERSBURG — The Louise Graham Regeneration Center is lending a helping hand to the community and the environment in a variety of ways.
Founded in 1949, the private, non-profit center provides daily vocational and job skills training, work experience, employment and independent skills for developmentally disabled adults.
Louise Graham was a volunteer at All Children’s Hospital in St. Pete where she met a developmentally disabled man who had been abandoned by his family. Graham felt the best way to help him and others like him was to teach him self-sufficiency.
With this credo she continued to donate her time and resources with the Florence Nightingale Circle, as her organization came to be known, in aiding disabled adults learn precious skills. When Graham passed away in the 1980s, her friends renamed the organization in her honor. R’ Club Child Care, Inc. of St. Pete took over management of the center in 2006.
“We have significantly improved the program, the facility and reputation,” stated Executive Director Art O’Hara.
Developmentally disabled adults take part in job training and employment in packaging, shredding and recycling for the center. Secure Shred, one of the organization’s programs, handles the shredding of documents for financial institutions, healthcare providers, legal firms and defense contractors, among others. The paper, after being shredded and compressed, is sold to paper mills for recycling into paper products.
O’Hara estimated that about 98 percent all of the work is done by the disabled program participants.
“People who learn to drive forklifts, we get them trained and they get a certificate from Pinellas Technical Education Center. So they’re capable of driving a forklift or Bobcat for a private industry,” O’Hara said.
The center can even lend a hand with job placement for program participants.
“We would assist them in that process,” Lazarus said. “If they’re working in recycling, they can work in another recycling plant.”
Located in the Midtown redevelopment area of south St. Petersburg, the center also teaches basic life skills to program participants such as how to make a bed, how to dust and how to cook.
“Lot of folks live in group homes, so it helps them to know how to fold clothes,” O’Hara said.
Lazarus added: “We have people who live with family, people who live in group homes and we have people that live in adult living facilities. So we’re teaching them skills to be as independent as they possibly can. We do have a couple people to either live by themselves or with a live-in caregiver.”
There is even a mock apartment complete with bed, dressers and ironing board to help program participants develop important day-to-day life skills.
“The majority of consumers [program participants] are funded through a Medicaid waiver,” Lazarus said. “We do have some private pay people and we do have some people who are paid for by the State of Florida.”
She added that sometimes parents simply call the center and ask for a tour for their child living with a disability. If they are admitted to the program, there is no time frame.
“They can stay here forever,” she stated. “We’re going to assess what their needs are. They come in with what’s call a support plan, which has their goals spelled out.”
Manager Al Soto added: “The folks that work in the warehouse are a little bit higher functioning. They also have goals. What they learn there is how to work with each other, how to follow directions, how to stay safe. These are all transferable skills for when the time comes when they want to work in the community, they’ll have those skills.”
To assist in developing life skills, the center also schedules field trips for the program participants to such varied places as the local library and the Gulfport fresh market.
“You might have someone who wants to learn how to spend money,” Lazarus stated. “So we go to the fresh market and they decide that they want to buy a soda. We assist them in giving the money to a clerk and getting the change. And then we might come back here and work on that same task with fake money.”
Other scheduled events are parties and holiday celebrations, where program participants make decorate the center and even go out into the community to sing Christmas carols.
“At Christmas time we do a big production and have a gigantic party,” Lazarus said. “Our theme last year was Candyland, the game. We decorated the entire place with recycled materials.”
O’Hara joked: “We’re trying to get a bead on making piñatas for Cinco de Mayo next year. We have plenty of paper!”
If you have a loved one in need of these services, please call (727) 327-9444 for more information or visit www.louisegraham.org.