BERLIN — The Worcester County Developmental Center (WCDC) met with the Berlin Town Council this week to discuss the center’s growing presence in the county. The council was impressed with the strides WCDC has taken toward improving clients’ independence and supported that approval with a $7,500 grant.
For more than 40 years, WCDC has been an area staple, working with residents who have learning and other disabilities and striving to help them be productive members of the community.
“Most of what we’re about here is about work. Work is extremely important,” said Jack Ferry, WCDC’s executive director. “Our mission with our clients is to help them achieve their highest level of economic and social independence.”
The center encourages independence by assisting clients in a number of job programs. The agency operates a laundry, a greenhouse, a janitorial crew and lawn care service. It also has food services and catering as well as special craft projects like Inner Ocean Soap, which is assembled by hand by clients and sold around the county.
Economic freedom is the basis of real independence, said Ferry, and WCDC has worked hard to impart valuable job skills to clients. The organization’s track record reflects this. Since opening a new Pocomoke facility, the wages earned by clients has nearly tripled.
“We want to be an economic force. Since we moved into our place in January 2011, our client payroll has gone from $24,000 to $73,000 last year and we’ve just started,” Ferry said.
Many of the center’s clients work outside of the agency with local businesses. This is something that Ferry loves to see, saying that his goal would be “to put ourselves out of business and have everybody working alongside us out in the community.” But in the meantime, he’s glad that WCDC offers opportunities internally for clients to begin the process of learning how to manage employment, their time and their money.
It’s not just the clients benefiting from WCDC, either. The institute is a large job provider with a staff of around 80 and an annual staff payroll of approximately $1.8 million. In addition to its primary facility, WCDC also operates two residential houses within the county.
Beyond employment, WCDC takes a Swiss Army knife approach to improving the lives of clients. Recreation and education are big slices of the experience, according to Ferry.
“We also have a good time. We like to have a lot of fun,” he said.
Mentorship also plays a role with clients receiving one-on-one time with volunteers who are willing to share their hours and experience. Mayor Gee Williams said was glad to have WCDC in the area and that it has shown “great growth and great progress” over the years. The town chose to give the agency more than compliments by announcing a $7,500 grant.
Councilman Dean Burrell couldn’t resist pointing out that Berlin is unique in its level of support.
“We will be the first municipality in the county to offer such a grant directly to the Worcester County Developmental Center and that we are really proud of,” Burrell said.
Burrell’s phrasing made it sound like he was calling out other towns to step up to the plate, said Councilwoman Lisa Hall.
“Are we going to do a challenge? Do you want me to get a bucket of ice?” she joked, referring to the popular ALS Ice Bucket fundraising challenge.
Ferry was appreciative of the grant and invited not only the council but all who are interested to visit the WCDC facility.
“They teach me more everyday than I could ever teach them in a lifetime,” he said.