When Penn-Mar closed the door to its sheltered workshop in Glen Rock in 2012, it blew open a new door to a world of opportunities for the more than 100 men and women who had been employed there in contract work. By closing one door and opening another, Penn-Mar has been providing individuals with community-based employment and real-world learning experiences that are fostering inclusion and “transforming life into living” on a daily basis.
As a Penn-Mar employee, who has been working in the nonprofit’s Day Program for 14 years, Community Activity Instructor Andrea Hilbert has been part of Penn-Mar’s life-changing transformation and that of the individuals she supports. Since 2012, she and fellow instructors have been mentoring individual and group activities and volunteering out in the community.
“Once the workshop closed, Penn-Mar began looking for opportunities for our individuals to acquire skills and meaningful experiences,” said Andrea, a former cook who moved to Pennsylvania from Maryland 25 years ago, and was inspired to apply to Penn-Mar by her sister-in-law Lisa, who attends the Maryland Line Day Program. It’s been a labor of love ever since.
Volunteering is a large piece of Penn-Mar’s Community Learning Program. It encourages integration, promotes independence, enhances health and wellbeing, and increases self-esteem. Andrea has seen these benefits all come into full play over the past four years with the individuals she has been taking to the York County SPCA to volunteer twice a week.
“The SPCA has been a terrific partner from the beginning,” said Andrea. “Our folks really enjoy going there and have developed a wonderful rapport with the friendly and encouraging staff.”
In order to expose as many people as possible to volunteering at the SPCA, different groups and individuals go every Wednesday and Friday to work in the laundry where they fold and organize linens, and dry, stack and store the dog bowls. The skills they are developing, Andrea noted, are transferring to home where they are being reinforced. In addition, the skills can lead to possible employment opportunities down the road.
“I love it,” said Mervin Kearse, 43, who started volunteering at the SPCA about a year ago, and who joined Penn-Mar’s Day Program in 2014. “It’s been a good opportunity. I’ve been doing housekeeping work for a very long time, and so it’s a job I like. I did some other kinds of jobs, I liked them, but they weren’t the types of jobs I could see in my future.”
Mervin’s volunteer and past work experience made him a perfect candidate for Penn-Mar’s Community Employment Program, which he recently underwent and which matched him with a job at Summit Grove, an all-season camp in New Freedom, where, starting in February, he will be doing housekeeping and janitorial work.
“Volunteering in the community is very beneficial for our individuals,” said Andrea. “The life experiences they are having, the friendships they are making, and of course the skills they are learning are all impacting our folks in the most positive way.”
Penn-Mar’s men and women are blossoming out in the community; changing how they see themselves, and in the process, changing how the community sees them.