Photo: Anthony Stalcup Lilburn resident Anne Marie carries a plant on a tray in the Creative Enterprises greenhouse.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Throughout the week, Brittany of Grayson works diligently folding, wrapping and stuffing Yankz! Sure Lacy System shoelaces into individual boxes, which will leave the warehouse and head straight for shelves of multiple stores.
She doesn't work on shoelaces at a nine-to-five office or on an assembly line.
Instead, Brittany is one of more than 100 people who participates in this and other programs like it to teach herself the skills needed in a workplace at Lawrenceville's Creative Enterprises, Inc. The nonprofit asked that clients be identified only by their first names.
The nonprofit was created to serve adults "with disabilities and other barriers to employment" by offering a variety of programs to teach these individuals how to gain independence at any level, including finding a job and earning a paycheck.
"We're trying to help people be as fulfilled as they can be -- whatever it is, at whatever level," Executive Director Leigh McIntosh said, "by finding meaning in life and knowing that every person has value, no matter what the disability."
The clients of the nonprofit, located off of Hi Hope Lane, come to the center to learn different skills to land jobs at Chick-fil-A, coffee shops, Publix, computer stores and other places. Some of Creative's adults, like Brittany, work from its warehouse, building and crafting products for local businesses like Yankz!, who pay the workers.
Before anyone can be placed into a position, they need to create skills to make them hireable, McIntosh said.
Creative has multiple programs for the clients to engage in while learning new abilities, like its cat shelter, greenhouse and garden, thrift store and art programs. Plus, it offers classes in nutrition, cooking, athletics and day habilitation -- programs for just about every interest.
"We wanted to place clients who had an interest in horticulture into jobs, so we started the greenhouse," McIntosh said. "When we built the greenhouse, we realized that the clients had always been taken care of but never taken care of anything else. They loved taking care of the plants."
Many clients at Creative, including Anne Marie of Lilburn, work in the greenhouse, planting, watering, sweeping and selling the plants to the public. They start with just seeds and take care of the plants until they're sold off. During the springtime, the special-needs adults tend to an outdoor garden that produces all sorts of fruits and vegetables, which they sell at Chadwick's produce stand.
Years later, when the greenhouse became a success, they decided to add the cat shelter, which has had a positive impact on the adults who work at the nonprofit.
"We wanted to see if nurturing animals was something that they'd respond to and they did. They love it," McIntosh said. "There is something very therapeutic about visiting with the cats. They get to pet them, visit them and experience having pets without having to have one."
The no-kill cat shelter is primarily run by Doug, a client at Creative Enterprises who takes care of the rescued felines, all of which are available to the public for adoptions. All of the animals are fixed and given shots before they can go home with anyone.
"They make really good pets because they've gotten a lot of attention," McIntosh said.
Another extremely successful program at the center is the art program. Mark Knott, a potter from Suwanee, volunteers to teach two classes two days a week. Since the program began eight years ago, he's seen a change in many of his "students."
"They see things very differently. We just let them do their thing," he said. "They've never had this much freedom, so it's hard for some of them. Some folks that came over (to the studio) were told to come up with an idea and it took some time. Some stayed for six months just watching the others."
But the progress has paid off. Many of the adults have had works displayed at the Hudgens Center for the Arts and the Mason Murer gallery in Atlanta. They have also sold pieces at art shows, including the annual Folk Fest show in Norcross.
Knott doesn't try to teach the artists any techniques because it would take the fun out of creating.
"The beauty of this work is if people tried to sit down and train them or teach them academics, it would spoil the whole thing," he said.
JD, a very skilled painter, has been offered a solo show for his pieces that feature color and houses. The artists can make a paycheck by selling pieces, because they receive 50 percent of the profit. The rest of the sale goes back into the program.
"One thing I've learned about people who are labeled 'retarded' is it doesn't mean they don't learn, they just learn slower," McIntosh said. "Once they learn it, they've got it. Sometimes it just takes a little longer than others."
For more information about Creative Enterprises, its programs or how to donate, visit www.ceisite.com.