Helping those in need

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 3, 2005

The Times-Journal

Some of the most poignant stories of how much each United Way dollar given means come out of two agencies that provide programming for people in the community with special needs. They are Cahaba Center for Mental Health and Mental Retardation Services and West Central Alabama Easter Seal Rehabilitation Center.

Earlier this year, the grant proposal-writing staff of United Way, along with Cahaba Center staff, assisted Cahaba Consumer Affairs Inc. in conceiving, preparing and submitting a $20,000 proposal to provide programming for the group’s drop-in center in 2006. The group recently received official confirmation that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) national Self Development of People program had approved the award.

SDOP gives money to groups like Cahaba that are totally in control of their own programs.

The Cahaba consumers were elated. Now they will be able to launch a year-round activities program with outside instructors, including adult basic education, computer instruction, and arts and crafts, which they believe will help lead many of the approximately 50 to 100 to be served to gainful employment in time.

Cahaba Consumer Affairs, Inc. is a free-standing, 501(c)3 group, receiving state funding and employing an activities director. The activities director and board president actually wrote the grant.

Cahaba Consumer Affairs, Inc. is one small part of a much larger agency &045; Cahaba Center – that in a year’s time serves more than 4,000 area MHMR consumers. Located in the medical corridor on Medical Parkway, its more than 200 staff members are serving a diverse clientele of all ages who are seeking help for mental illness, mental retardation and addiction problems. Infants with developmental delays as well as children at risk of being removed from their homes are served by teams of professionals who work with families in the home setting.

United Way funds are used to help support the day training centers for adults with mental retardation. Training in basic living skills, primary academics and pre-vocational skills are just some of the program activities conducted on the Cahaba Center campus.

Special Olympics competitions for track and field and basketball are a highlight of the program year, and sales of ceramics and green house ferns help with program supply costs.

Cahaba Center consumers can be seen around town planting fresh flowers in street boxes year round, to enhance the curb appeal of the city. And those doing the planting themselves grace the city streets with their earnest efforts and genuine smiles of accomplishment.

Not one but two very special agencies serve special needs populations of Selma and Dallas County, the other being West Central Alabama Easter Seal Rehabilitation Center on Citizens Parkway.

United Way funds support the Special Preschool Education Center (SPEC), which serves children ages 3 to 5, and is exclusively for Dallas County citizens.

The Rehab Center overall provides educational and occupational opportunities to 400-500 children and adults in any given year, including 20 in the SPEC program. In some years, special grants have swelled the number served to more than 14,000, according to Rehab Center officials, in the six counties, including Dallas, served by the center.

For persons with disabilities served and their families and friends, the Easter Seal center offers critical services without which participants would often face a rather limited existence. With the program and its services, many are able to enjoy a substantial level of independence and productivity in jobs in the communities where they live, rather than in an institutionalized setting as was formerly the case.

(This article is part of an ongoing series in support of the 2006 United Way campaign which ends on Dec. 31, 2005. Funds to 15 member agencies will be distributed in 2006.)