Group helps those with disabilities find jobs, independence

Randy Harris has gotten really good at taking one job and turning it into five.

As production manager at Creative Enterprises Inc. in Lawrenceville, Harris spends his days finding the perfect job for each of the hundreds of disabled clients who walk through the group's doors. For decades now, Creative Enterprises has helped local adults with disabilities become independent and contributing members of the community, largely by finding - or creating - jobs for them.

If they have a green thumb, clients might find work in the on-site greenhouse, which sells plants and flowers to the community. If they have an affinity for animals, they might be put in charge of cleaning the cages at Creative Enterprises' licensed animal shelter, which offers pets for adoption to the public. Some of the clients who spend their days feeding and playing with the cats will eventually go on to work at veterinary offices or in kennel facilities, Director Judy Middleton said.

Other clients, such as Rashad Hill of Snellville, feel more comfortable with assembly work in the workshop area. There, clients work on various odd jobs for local businesses. Hill tightens heat filter rings for microwaves for Applied Ceramics in Norcross. He brags that he can put together about 1,000 of the tiny heat filters each day.

"Our philosophy is, everybody can succeed at something, so we try to find that something," Harris said.

While many of the clients find work at the Creative Enterprises compound on Hi-Hope Lane in Lawrenceville, others get help finding jobs in the community at companies including Publix and Marshalls.

"There are jobs out there, and it takes someplace like us to help match them up," said program support manager Sharyn Berg. "And these people want jobs. They're so dedicated. If you teach them what they do, they'll do it forever."

In fact, many Creative Enterprises graduates are still holding the same jobs 20 or 30 years after they were placed with their company, Middleton said.

Hill has worked at Creative Enterprises for nine years now. He works from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. - a normal workday at Creative Enterprises - and then returns to his Snellville personal care home.

He admits he's learned a lot from the staff - how to come to work on time, how to listen to the boss and that he should never talk back on the job.

"It's a nice place to work. Everyone is very kind and sweet. You can go to them and they'll help with whatever you need," Hill said.

Becoming independent

The center is open to anyone over the age of 16 who is disabled. Clients at Creative Enterprises have all kinds of disabilities, ranging from mental or emotional problems to physical disabilities. A few clients are hearing impaired and one is blind.

The goal, said Middleton, is to see each client become as independent as possible, whether that means holding down a job at Creative Enterprises or working out in the community.

Making money is a big part of becoming independent, and clients are paid a certain amount for their daily work at Creative Enterprises. They get paid for each piece they complete in the workshop or for each hour they work, and get a paycheck every week.

"One of my favorite things is how proud they are of their work. No matter the size of the paycheck, they're so thrilled to get those paychecks," Berg said.

Clients can make extra money by selling the arts and crafts they make during a twice-a-week art program. A small collection of watercolor paintings, drawings and ceramic bowls is on sale daily in the Creative Enterprises workshop.

Clients also learn a sense of responsibility by helping to take care of Mary, a curmudgeonly pot-bellied pig that's lived in the yard outside Creative Enterprises for about a decade. She rarely sticks her head out of her dog house-like home on the hot days of summer, but the clients make sure she's kept watered, fed and comfortable.

A history of help

Creative Enterprises was established in 1976, and has operated out of the building at 701 Hi-Hope Lane since 1979. A small sign points the public to the greenhouse, but otherwise, the brick building resembles any of the others in the industrial park area.

Beyond its day support working programs, Creative Enterprises offers adult literacy classes, GED preparation courses, forklift training and some computer classes. It also runs a day habilitation center down the street for disabled people who may not be able to hold down a job. There, clients learn skills for daily living, such as cooking and cleaning.

Creative Enterprises sends out mailers for their public greenhouse and Middleton speaks to various civic groups about the nonprofit's programs, but the group still isn't as well known in the community as Middleton would like. Right now, many people learn about the group through word of mouth.

"The community's been very receptive once they learn what we do and get to know our folks," Middleton said.