Approximately 40 persons attended a two-hour open house last week to celebrate Howard Training Center's half-century of work to improve the lives of developmentally disabled adults.
The celebration at the Stonum Road facility, held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 7, included the honoring of John and June Rogers and the Mary Stuart Rogers Foundation with the naming of a classroom made possible by their generosity. The Rogers' daughter, Janet, was also in attendance.
"They had donated a sizeable amount of money for the classroom and the focus of that classroom is to teach and promote life skills for the clients so that they're learning things that they can take away from here in their own personal daily lives," said Executive Director Carla Strong.
The classroom project had been started but not finished prior to Strong's hiring. The Rogers foundation made the donation in 2014 to see the project through to completion.
"Government funding doesn't come anywhere close to covering what we really need," said Strong. "We have to have the community support."
The day program classroom provides a ratio of one instructor to three clients. Currently six clients are served in the room but attendance fluctuates.
Howard Training Center was formed in 1950 by a group of eight parents concerned with promoting services for their children with developmental disabilities. Initially the center met in rented church and school facilities and served only mentally handicapped adults. As the program evolved to include all developmentally handicapped adults, there was a need to acquire permanent facilities. That came along in 1967 after the board purchased a 10-acre orchard north of Hatch Road which at the time was unincorporated county jurisdiction.
In 1953, the company incorporated as a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to serving all citizens in Stanislaus County with developmental disabilities, regardless of age or severity of disability. Now known as Howard Training Center (HTC), the organization works to achieve full inclusion of about 150 individuals with disabilities by developing personal and occupational capabilities, the development and delivery of helpful programs and services and community advocacy.
HTC's services include training and employing developmentally disabled adults to prepare 15,000 meals each month for county senior at nutrition sites as well as the Meals on Wheels program for shut-ins, and ARC catering services.
HTC was just awarded a contract by the Banta School District near Tracy to provide two meals per day for students.
"We've gone from about 10,000 to 13,000 meals a month to about 45,000 a month."
Strong's goal is to get a local school contract, which could lead HTC to add a second shift. Currently all kitchen workers work from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 a.m.
The Senior Meals program contract has become problematic and the HTC board will eventually need to weigh in, said Strong. HTC is reimbursed only $5.50 per meal but seldom covers the cost of the food, the labor to prepare and deliver it, bring the dishes back for washing and transportation.
"It seldom covers the cost of the food for the standards that are required under the Older Americans Act," she said.
"After 64 years we've been through some economic downturns, we've been through some challenges and we are the oldest and one of the largest when it comes to employing people with disabilities so we always stick to it and figure out what to do to survive."
HTC also trains and oversees adults for landscaping services. The city of Ceres contracts with HTC to maintain landscaping along sound walls and medians. The HTC clients also maintain two rest stops on Highway 99 south of Turlock and one on I-5 near Westley.
Strong noted that changes are coming to her industry forced by the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act. She said clients will no longer to work as "sheltered workshops."
"Our whole focus is going to change because the law says we have to have a client ... work with our job coaches and progress and go out in the community and get a job along with everybody else."
Strong said many clients easily are independently placed in the work situations, working in places like Home Depot, California State University, Trader Joe's, Redwood Café, Industrial Electrical Supply and some fast-food restaurants.
"But there are some of our clients where that's never going to happen. Some in the industry get mad when I say that."
She said while some clients are capable of going that far, employers continue to have a stigma about developmentally handicapped persons and "are not willing to take the chance."
Strong also understands the pushback of companies hiring the handicapped because production volume is often not as great as non-handicapped employees. But she said employers don't understand that job coaches check in every week to work on any employment problems.
"You don't get that when you're just hiring somebody off the street and that's the kind of training and things that we do."
HTC's programs are suffering a bit because most clients arrive through public transit services - such as Dial-A-Ride - which are cutting back routes because of not meeting the fare box ratio.
Other services included day programs, Production Unlimited and Community Employment vocational training programs; and residential programs such as Home At Last.
The facility also teaches ServSafe food handler and CPR classes which are open to the public.
Howard Training Center has about 250 in day programs and is one of the few programs for developmentally disabled adults in the county with a behaviorist on staff, said Strong.
"We are a behavior program so we will take clients who have schizophrenia, behaviors other programs won't take," said Strong. "Part of it is the way our campus is laid out and part of it is the dedication of staff. We will take a client who comes in whose really requiring one-on-one care to start with and we will work with them in the lesson plans and what they're doing to the point to where they can get them to the one-to-three ratio we're supposed to have."