David Kendall, right, Sylvia Saunders and Mike McLean dance during a recent exercise class at Creative Enterprises Inc. The Lawrenceville nonprofit has been open since 1976 and assists adults with disabilities to find employment or improve their skill sets. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)
LAWRENCEVILLE — When Bob Hartman came to Creative Enterprises for the first time, he was scared to death to leave his house.
Hartman, a Grayson resident, initially came one day a week, but enjoyed meeting other people, and soon came a few days a week. Fourteen years later, Hartman visits four days a week, makes artwork and works in the warehouse to supplement his income.
When asked why he’s a regular at Creative, Hartman said, “I think it’s meeting everybody.”
One of his favorite pieces of art is a cane decorated with several varieties of bead that helps people who are diagnosed with autism.
Whether it’s fellowship, exercise or making crafts or art projects that are for sale, the nonprofit located on Hi-Hope Lane is a place for about 150 people like Hartman to come during the day and develop their independence. It opened in 1976 with six clients in a rental space, but saw significant growth about 10 years ago. It recently was reaccredited for three more years by CARF International.
The organization recently received a donation from McCarthy Building Companies through its “Heart Hats” program to oversee the construction of a new roof. With a history of roofing problems, Creative Enterprise’s executive director Leigh McIntosh said McCarthy was their organization’s Santa Claus this year.
McCarthy’s “Heart Hats” is a community involvement program that supports and encourages employees’ volunteer efforts. The program allows McCarthy employees across the country to take at least one paid full-day off from work annually to use their building skills and other talents to aid local organizations in need. A large portion of the program is driven by requests from individual employees who have a personal interest in a charitable organization.
“I’ve been here 32 years, and I’ve never had a company donate that kind of help for us,” McIntosh said. “They’ve really been an amazing company for us.”
It serves people who have developmental and intellectual disabilities, and several who have both. Some have an intellectual disability, a hearing impairment and cerebral palsy. Others are recovering from strokes, have muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, mental illness, depression or are bi-polar.
McIntosh, has worked at the nonprofit for 32 years, and said it’s been a fulfilling career because she feels like she’s made a difference.
“It’s about them being able to do the things that they love to do,” McIntosh said. “Them being challenged, them knowing that they can contribute, that they have something important to give. They’re not sitting at home vegetating.”
Along with the art program that Hartman enjoys, the nonprofit also features exercise classes where clients dance to thumping music on a Wii console, and cooking classes where they recently made pasta and meat sauce. There’s also a licensed animal shelter, a greenhouse and a thrift shop open to the public that accepts donations.
Creative also contracts with about 15 to 20 companies each year to provide labor on projects like portable trash cans, shoelaces for athletes and stickers on pet food.
“We want them to be as independent as possible,” McIntosh said. “They all have goals and a plan that’s updated every year. So whatever their goals and dreams are that go into that plan, we help them achieve those goals, whatever they are.”
The organization typically hosts 150 clients daily, and it maintains a 10:1 client to staff ratio, McIntosh said.
For McIntosh, who admitted that most of her career is behind her, the more than three decades spent at Creative Enterprises has been fulfilling.
“I love it. I always have,” she said. “It’s one of those things where you feel like you can make a difference in a positive way for people and your community. Now as I look at my life and realize I don’t have as many years ahead of me as I have behind me, I don’t have any regrets. That’s a wonderful thing. I feel like I’ve been doing something that’s been needed all this time.”