Trisha Jones said she never knew the most rewarding job she'd ever have would begin when she was well into her 40s. "It's a blast working at the Martin Center. This is the best job I've ever had," said Jones.
The Martin Center, located in Agnos, provides developmentally challenged adults with habilitative skills and training. The center is funded through the Network of Community Options. Two group homes, Clayton Court in Salem and Stubing Home in Ash Flat, send adults to the center each day.
Adults at the center suffer from a variety of conditions. Some of those include schizophrenia, Down syndrome, autism, bi-polar disorder, head injuries or other genetic disorders. People at the center range in age from 20 to 76.
"We want to stress that while clients (students at the center) here have some developmental difficulties, they're people first, just like you and me, and we focus on their abilities, not their disabilities," Jones said.
Jones, an instructor at the center, said clients range from moderate to severely developmentally challenged. She said when a client is admitted, he is evaluated and a program specific to his needs is developed. All programs incorporate four goals: recreational activity, community function, vocational training and domestic competence.
The goal of each program is for the client to attain the highest level of competence possible, Jones said. A goal for some clients is living on their own with assistance; for others the center can provide skills so patients can live with as few restrictions as possible.
The biggest problem most developmentally challenged adults face is retaining the skills they learn on a day-to-day basis, she said.
James Owens, a client at the center, said he knows how important the Martin Center is for developmentally challenged adults. "I started coming here over a year ago and they taught me a lot," he said.
Owens, who lives on his own with his wife, Bridget, in Mammoth Spring, said he enjoys working in the center's recycling program. The center recycles plastic parts from Baxter Lab in Mountain Home. Owens and other clients earn money and learn vocational skills for their recycling work, said Carol Morris, head instructor at the center.
Owens, who met his wife while he was working at McDonald's in Hardy, said he likes working at the recycling center but someday he would like to make and sell sitting benches.
Morris said the work done at the center is important and the center needs money for improvements. She said the administration would like to build a deck onto the back of the building so clients could enjoy the outdoors while they eat. "We would also like to build a wilderness trail on our property so our clients can have a place to walk. Right now all they can do is walk around the parking lot on their breaks," she said.
In June the center plans to hold a rummage sale to raise funds for these projects. The center also has to raise 10 percent of its operating costs from donations and fund-raisers every year. Lavonda Eastep, director of the Martin Center, said it's not mandatory that the center raise the 10 percent match, but it would help.
Jones said she hopes the community will come out to support the center. "We have a lot of special people here. They have needs and I hope we're able to meet them," she said.