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Cahaba Center services are special

SELMA — Before and after a person’s school years, the Cahaba Center for Mental Health, a program of the United Way, cares for the intellectual well being of people in Dallas, Wilcox and Perry counties with mental illness, substance abuse or intellectual disabilities.

Funding from the United Way is only applied to Dallas County.

The center offers day programs and day treatment at the main location.

“A lot of our clients actually reside in group homes and apartments,” said LaFon Barlow, executive director of the Cahaba Center. The center owns or leases these complexes.

Children from birth to age 3 with intellectual or physical disabilities can be part of the Early Intervention program, which helps children develop the skills to prepare them for schooling.

After elementary, middle and high school, “they come back to us,” Barlow said. “I’ve worked here 20 years and I’m beginning to see the babies I worked with coming back.”

The center works with clients for whatever mental development they may need.

“Each one has an individual service plan,” Barlow said. “Every person has his or her different goals depending on what their level of function is.”

Clients of the center learn things such as personal hygiene, how to make a bed, do laundry, dial 9-1-1, vocational related skills and “basic life skills and living skills,” Barlow said. Some choose to learn how to eat at a restaurant, which is more difficult than most people realize, Barlow said. They learn how to order, select the correct utensil and pay with correct change.

One of the other projects clients can participate in is ceramics. “Our students can work on a piece from beginning to end,” said Floyd Sanders, ID adult training program director. Some are only able to paint the pieces a solid color. Floyd suggests the base color be black on the pieces to give the later colors more definition. Then, those with steadier hands paint the detailing. One piece may pass through the hands of five or six people before completion. When Sanders thought to bring these pieces to the local fairs for competitions, he was not sure if the clients should be competition in traditional categories. “I asked for a special category, but the said no, they’d have to work against regular adults,” Sanders said.

Michelle Barrett enjoys working with the ceramics at the center. She will sit in the ceramics area for 9 a.m. “until we get ready to leave to go home” at 2 p.m., Barrett said.

“She is one of my best artist now,” Sanders said. “She has had a desire to learn.” Items made or cared for by the members of the center will be available for purchase at the Christmas Village event on Dec. 7-10. “They have talents and gifts like anybody else,” Barlow said. “We try to get them out in the community as much as we can.”

Some programming the center offers is in jeopardy from the recent budget cuts and Barlow knows future cuts are imminent. “We don’t want to cut services because we know what we’re doing is helping the community,” Barlow said. “The state money has been cut substantially and the stimulus money has helped us maintain, not create more jobs. Even as people leave, sometimes we don’t refill their spots. We’re just tying to keep providing the services we’ve been providing. We’re just doing everything we can think of to do.”

The United Way gives $30,000 to $40,000 to the Cahaba Center each year, despite the center’s request of $50,000. Total budget for the center is $9 million a year. Funding comes in also from Medicaid, federal money, state department of mental health, local charities and county commissions. “We have to have local money as match money for some of the companies,” Barlow said. “The United Way money can be part of that.”

In order to be granted funding from the United Way, Barlow must give a report to the local United Way members explaining the need for the funding for the next year. A committee then looks over her packet of information and follow-up within three to four months. “They don’t know what they can do until the national campaign comes in,” Barlow said. “The funding last year was less and I know it’s because there’s a lot of people out of work.”

State employees have asked Barlow to estimate what might happen at the center if perhaps 20 percent of funding was cut. She doesn’t like to think about additional ways to trim the company. “But, we’re committed to keep trying to provide services to the people we’re here to serve.”

The United Way does its best to support programming like the Cahaba Center. “We’re really blessed in this community to have a place like that,” said Jeff Cothran, executive director for the Selma and Dallas County United Way.