News you can use

Center helps an enterprising group

Beehive production lines, a fully contained recycling center, an arts and crafts business, a paper-shredding operation, janitorial services - to some, it might sound like a sales pitch for stocks in a mutual fund.

It's not. It's a list of services provided by the 50 clients of the Havre Day Activity Center. The center, a private, nonprofit organization that provides services and support to people with developmental disabilities, operates five group homes and employs more than 70 staffers.

"I think a lot of people don't realize the financial impact this organization has on the community," said center director Dale Boespflug. "It's considerable."

The facts speak for themselves: Of the center's $2.23 million annual budget, $40,000 is paid directly to the center's clients for services they perform, $1.4 million goes to payroll for the staff, $88,000 is spent on insurance and utilities, $64,000 pays for groceries and supplies, and almost $30,000 is spent on building, equipment and vehicle maintenance and repair.

"That's money that's spent within this community," Boespflug said. "That's money that's recirculated in Havre."

One of the center's primary functions is to provide jobs to its clients to foster a sense of usefulness and offer a source of income, Boespflug said.

Of the center's 50 clients, about 35 have skills that allow them to hold jobs in some capacity, he said.

Some work in the recycling center, sorting, crushing and packaging recyclable material. Others work building wooden beehives under a contract with a Chinook honey producer. Some grow potted plants that are leased to local companies during the summer and displayed on sidewalks around Havre. Some clients perform janitorial services or make seasonal crafts that are sold at craft fairs. Still others work in a furniture-refinishing shop or do snow removal.

This morning, workers in the recycling center went and collected cardboard from various businesses around Havre.

"We just got back from a cardboard run," said 21-year-old Mitch Grubb as he removed a pair of winter gloves. "It's pretty cold out there."

Grubb said he is not bothered by the cold weather and enjoys working.

"I like three things - (sorting) newspapers, going on runs, and shoveling," he said. "I'm good at shoveling, except the heavy stuff and ice."

Mitch said December is his favorite month.

"I get more presents than anyone else," he said. "Because it's my birthday and Christmas."

The newest business undertaken by clients is a paper-shredding operation. Several of the center's residents already shred paper at Northern Montana Hospital, Boespflug said, adding that the business is about to expand.

"We're interested in shredding confidential papers from businesses and government entities in Havre," he said. "This is an enterprise where we could employ some of our lesser-skilled people."

The goal is to create a business that could provide regular employment for four to six of the center's residents, Boespflug said. In anticipation of the expansion, Havre Day Activity just purchased an industrial shredder, which has greatly increased the speed and capacity for shredding sensitive documents, he said.

Boespflug has approached a number of local businesses and offered the service for 22 cents a pound. The director conceded that government agencies have shown little interest in the service, but said he is undeterred.

"We've gotten some positive interest from some insurance agencies and some local banks," he said. "I expect this to be up and running in about two weeks."

Hill County Commission Chair Pat Conway said Thursday the county opted not to contract with the center because the county already has a paper shredder and because the county only shreds a minimal amount of documents.

The amount of money paid to clients for their work varies, Boespflug said. Havre Day Activity is certified as a sub-minimum wage agency by the state Department of Labor and Industry, meaning wages are set based on a production rate, he said.

For instance, the rate paid to paper shredders is determined by measuring how long it takes three staff members to shred 10 pounds of paper, and comparing that figure with how long it takes three clients to shred 10 pounds, Boespflug said, adding that about 85 percent of the money paid to the center for services by local businesses goes to the clients who perform the work. The remainder goes to cover the center's overhead costs, such as materials and maintenance.

In addition to the paychecks the clients receive for their jobs, most also receive about $60 a month through the state, Boespflug said. The clients can use the money for things like eating out, taking field trips and purchasing clothes.

"(I) put it in the bank," said resident Marie Keeler of her earnings. Keeler, who works in the wood shop and the recycling center, was baking brownies this morning.

"Our people are part of this community and need to be included in the community," Boespflug said. "They should be able to enjoy the benefits of the community and that is something we really strive for."

Some frequent outings that clients participate in include attending local sporting events, going to the movies, singing karaoke, and taking camping trips, Boespflug said.

One group of diehard professional wrestling fans will go to Billings next month to watch a World Wrestling Federation match.

"We have a group of about seven who always watch WWF," Boespflug said. "They can't get enough of it."

Grubb said he is one of the lucky clients who gets to go on the trip.

"We get to see a real program," he said. "The Hurricane Jericho, maybe even the Rock, my favorite wrestler."

Other trips include tours of Glacier National Park and the occasional rock concert. A number of center residents attended the Great White concert held at the Havre Ice Dome earlier this fall.

"They loved it," Boespflug said. "Absolutely loved it."

At night the clients sleep in group homes or an apartment complex run by Havre Day Activity. During the day, they spend their time at the center's main building, located on west First Street. The facility includes the recycling center, exercise rooms, art stations, a kitchen and dining room, a laundry facility, and individual therapy rooms.

The exercise room has stationary bikes and padded mats that are used for stretching and other exercises. The room is adorned by wall murals painted by resident Walter Bryan, who Boespflug describes as an "immensely talented artist."

The murals include several intricate paintings of motorcycles and one elaborate depiction of a Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight train that covers nearly an entire wall.

Upon seeing a visitor come to admire his paintings, Walter offers a greeting.

"My name is Walter," he introduces himself with a firm hand shake. "What's your name?"

Next to the exercise room is a craft station where clients construct seasonal crafts like painted wooden Christmas trees and snowmen. The items are sold at local craft fairs, and the builders get the profits.

Standing amid the dozens of bottles of paint and cardboard cutouts, Boespflug cannot disguise a quiet pride - Havre Day Activity seeks to instill a sense of accomplishment in its clients, and the plan is working.

"We don't even have any to show anymore because we sold them all," Boespflug said of the Christmas trees and snowmen that now adorn homes throughout Havre.

In a therapy room at the rear of the building, Havre Day Activity staffers work with some of the more severely mentally and physically disabled of the center's residents. Using a "shadow box," a small wooden box that is filled with hundreds of tiny multicolored lights that flash in various patterns, staff can help clients learn to process sensory information. Across the hall, more staff help several clients who use wheelchairs stretch and fight muscle atrophy using a number of exercises.

A huge warehouse at the back of the center contains the recycling center and a the beehive production line. On any given weekday, eight to 10 clients can be found working there. Under the eye of several center staffers, clients sort and package cardboard and aluminum, which are assembled in huge blocks that weigh more than 1,200 pounds.

If the the work is hard, the clients don't show it. Mountains of rubbish and discarded trash are soon transformed into neatly stacked bundles of material that will one day again find its way into the hands of consumers.

"We send them out by the truckload," said Boespflug.


Reader Comments(0)