Ch­e­sa­peake Cen­ter cel­e­brates 50th an­niver­sary

Sunday Star - - LOCAL - By JOSH BOLLINGER jbollinger@star­dem.com Fol­low me on Twit­ter @jboll_ star­dem.

— Ch­e­sa­peake Cen­ter, an Eas­ton-based non­profit that pro­vides ser­vices to adults with de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties, cel­e­brated its 50th an­niver­sary with an out­door party on Fri­day, Sept. 8.

With an evolv­ing role since its be­gin­nings in 1967, Ch­e­sa­peake Cen­ter now pro­vides vo­ca­tional and res­i­den­tial ser­vices and sup­ports the in­te­gra­tion of adults with dis­abil­i­ties into the com­mu­nity.

“We cer­tainly be­lieve that ev­ery­body can make a pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tion,” Ch­e­sa­peake Cen­ter Pres­i­dent and CEO Donna Har­ri­son said. “We all have some­thing to of­fer.”

Har­ri­son was hired by Ch­e­sa­peake Cen­ter right out of col­lege 36 years ago to run a group home when the or­ga­ni­za­tion first started its res­i­den­tial pro­gram.

At that time, peo­ple with de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties were be­ing re­leased back into com­mu­ni­ties af­ter be­ing “ware­housed in big in­sti­tu­tions,” lead­ing to the Ch­e­sa­peake Cen­ter open­ing group homes as a means to teach them the ba­sics of liv­ing, she said.

“We were teach­ing peo­ple to tie their shoes and, you know, ev­ery­thing, be­cause in an in­sti­tu­tion they didn’t get a lot of care or train­ing, and so those are the kinds of things were were,” Har­ri­son said. “Not that those aren’t im­por­tant, but over time, ty­ing your shoes isn’t as im­por­tant. You can buy Vel­cro ... or you can buy slip-ons.”

“We fi­nally got to the more im­por­tant things. What are you dreams? What are your hopes? What do you want out of life? ... What is it you want that we can help you with?” she said. “That’s kind of how the fo­cus has changed over the years.”

Although the or­ga­ni­za­tion has been pro­vid­ing a vo­ca­tional-type ser­vice for about 20 years, there is now more of a push to find its clients jobs in the com­mu­nity.

“We’re re­ally en­cour­ag­ing that more. That’s be­come more of our fo­cus, and then there may be some folks who might not be able to par­tic­i­pate in the com­mu­nity at that level, and so we can kind of be a safety net for those, but they may still be able to con­trib­ute in some way, whether it’s par­tic­i­pat­ing in a se­nior cen­ter pro­grams, or at­tend­ing a con­cert or what­ever,” Har­ri­son said.

Mar­i­anna Breed­ing came to Ch­e­sa­peake Cen­ter as a client af­ter not be­ing able to find work in the com­mu­nity. The or­ga­ni­za­tion hired her, and she went on to be­come a vo­ca­tional eval­u­a­tor, and later the head of the en­tire de­part­ment. She was on staff for 34 years.

Breed­ing said the lo­cal com­mu­nity “is so won­der­ful and ac­cept­ing” that find­ing the right job for the right per­son is com­pletely pos­si­ble.

And for Lee Matthews, who worked for Ch­e­sa­peake Cen­ter for 29 years, she stayed be­cause she sim­ply loved her job and the clients she worked for.

“They’re a won­der­ful group of peo­ple and any­thing you can do to sup­port or help them made your job much easier and en­joy­able, know­ing that you were do­ing some­thing worth­while,” Matthews said.

Matthews has no­ticed the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s im­pact to the com­mu­nity through the clients it serves. When she was first employed by it, clients weren’t out in the com­mu­nity on a daily ba­sis, “which I see is the big­gest thing,” Matthews said. “They’re get­ting their own jobs in the com­mu­nity and it makes a big dif­fer­ence to them to feel that they’re im­por­tant and worth do­ing some­thing.”

Ch­e­sa­peake Cen­ter has got­ten to the core of com­mu­nity in­te­gra­tion and what its clients want, Har­ri­son said.

“We’ve got peo­ple go­ing on cruises, we’ve got peo­ple work­ing at com­mu­nity jobs and lov­ing it, we’ve got peo­ple who serve on com­mit­tees, we’ve got peo­ple who be­long to clubs, we’ve got peo­ple play­ing com­mu­nity soft­ball,” Har­ri­son said. “I mean, that’s life — that’s the kind of life we all want, and cer­tainly that’s the kind of life they want, too.”

PHOTO BY JOSH BOLLINGER

Em­ploy­ees with Ch­e­sa­peake Cen­ter and lo­cal of­fi­cials cel­e­brate the 50th an­niver­sary of the or­ga­ni­za­tion on Fri­day, Sept. 8, with a rib­bon cut­ting cer­e­mony at its head­quar­ters off Dover Road.

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