Howard Training Center (HTC) has given notice to the county that it will no longer provide meals to seniors who partake in the nutrition site and Meals on Wheels program.
It’s just one of the changes coming for training of HTC’s 246 clients and 111 staff members in Stanislaus County. With its three campuses, the Ceres-based non-profit agency is responding to the demands of the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act of 2016.
One consequence is that HTC has told county officials they will no longer be providing 20,000 hot meals per month in the Senior Nutrition program. Program organizers are scrambling to find a replacement.
Jill Erickson, program manager with the Area Agency on Aging, said that the county will be putting out a request for proposals to operate the senior meals congregate site program and the home meal delivery service. But there will be a short turn around time. HTC’s contract ends June 30.
The RFP will be broken down into different service areas across the county and multiple organizations could fill the need. Last year a RFP was put out and Howard Training Center was the only organization to submit a bid.
“We need some local, community heroes,” said Erickson.
Strong said Howard Training Center is working closely with the Area Agency on Aging in Stanislaus County to provide a smooth transition of services.
“I’m sure they have it covered,” said HTC’s Executive Director Carla Strong. “It’s not that the seniors don’t deserve to be taken care of – because I’ve got a soft spot for them – but I think there are other organizations out there well equipped to take that on whereas there aren’t many organization that are equipped to do what we do. We are the largest employer of adults with disabilities in the county.”
Strong said the federal act is resulting in traditional “sheltered workshops” for training disabled adults being eliminated across the country and replaced by new programs that aim squarely for competitive-integrated employment for clients.
She noted that the new focus on independent and integrated employment is a “big, industry wide challenge.”
“For us it’s going to mean completely revamping all of our programs to survive and we’re going to do that – but we’re excited,” said Strong.
Strong said her industry has known the changes were coming two years ago but stands by her view that the law may be well intentioned but feels it “didn’t take all of the population into consideration.”
One dramatic change will lead HTC away from its role as a provider for senior meals.
“We’ve got some exciting things that are changing about what we’re doing here for our clients in providing them new services,” said Strong. “It does mean we have notified the county that we will not be continuing our service of senior meals after June 30.”
Another change is that HTC’s commercial kitchen north of Hatch Road will be developed into a Culinary Academy offering training for all steps from cooking to “front of the house” skills with a complete curriculum.
“We are looking at the plans for starting our own culinary school. That is the easiest for us to convert because we have the large kitchen. It’s a unique opportunity for the adults that are in our programs to gain employment in the competitive workforce.”
Howard Training Center has trained adults with disabilities in vocational and life skills for 65 years. Through a 22-year contract with Caltrans HTC, clients provide maintenance for the rest stops along Highway 99 south of Turlock and along I-5 in Westley and also provide gardening, trimming, and clean-up for the major thoroughfares of the city of Ceres. With those clients now placed into “independent placement,” and considered employees of HTC, they are paid minimum-wage as they clean all three HTC facilities.
HTC officials expect to raise the cost of the contract with the city by four or five percent.
Approximately 30 clients work in the Mary Stuart Rogers Commercial Kitchen on the Stonum Road campus and have produced the Senior Meals for Stanislaus County for the last 11 years.
HTC’s Production Unlimited campus works on hand assemblage projects for major wineries, the Caltrans Highway division, and the Hope Chest.
Behavioral and Adult Service counseling and care are offered both at the Stratos Way campus and the Stonum campus for over 100 adults with disabilities.