Decatur Students Tour WCDC, See Court They Funded

NEWARK — Groups of Stephen Decatur High School students got a first-hand look at the new Worcester County Developmental Center in Newark this week, including the $11,000-plus outdoor basketball court they donated to the facility.

In September 2007, a fire almost completely destroyed the old WCDC facility in Newark, a 75-year-old converted schoolhouse, leaving the important agency without a home. The WCDC works with disabled and developmentally challenged individuals in the county, teaching them life skills and helping them to find jobs in order to become active, productive and independent members of their communities.

Currently, the WCDC is helping around 80 individuals with developmental disabilities in Worcester, about 25 of which are participating in residential programs. However, the demand for services continued to grow and the need for a newer, larger facility became evident. Shortly after the 2007 fire, WCDC board members embarked on an ambitious plan to build a new and improved, 35,000 square-foot facility on the site of its original location and the roughly $7 million project was completed late last year.

Groups of Decatur students, teachers and administrators on Tuesday got a tour of the new facility, a sprawling campus bustling with activity as the agency’s clients get used to their new digs. Some WCDC clients this week were receiving classroom job training, while others were participating in contracted work projects.

The WCDC is providing real-life work experiences for its developmentally disabled clients at the new facility, which includes a working kitchen to provide training for food service jobs and catering; a greenhouse for growing, potting and selling plants; a commercial laundry operation capable of contracting for local hotels and healthcare facilities and countless other on-site job opportunities. In addition, the WCDC trains its clients for off-site employment opportunities in the community.

Along the way, the WCDC clients are gaining self-esteem and confidence as they work in various capacities at the Newark complex and out in the private sector, according to WCDC Executive Director June Walker.

“They’re most happy when they are being productive and earning money,” she said. “They are very proud of what they do. One of the things they always like to say is, ‘I worked today.’”

Equally important to the well-being of the WCDC clients is exercise, health training and fresh air. To that end, Stephen Decatur students quickly began a campaign to raise funds for an outdoor basketball court. Over $11,000 later, the new court was ready for use on Tuesday, although a formal dedication and plaque will come at a later date.

Decatur Principal Lou Taylor said on Tuesday, the goals of the WCDC and the Berlin high school are similar, despite the obvious differences. Taylor latched on to something Walker said earlier to illustrate his point.

“You said something very important earlier,” he said. “You said ‘it’s not about the building, it’s about what goes on inside.’ That’s the same philosophy we have at Decatur.”

Taylor also took the occasion to praise his students and the teachers for their efforts.

“They recognized the needs of others and put people first,” he said. “They realized how blessed they are and they want to help others in the community.”

Taylor said his students and staff were proud to be involved in such a worthwhile project.

“This is the right thing to do at the right time,” he said. “I had no idea it would take off like this. Our kids raised over $11,000 for this facility and we thank you for letting us be a part of it.”