A locally-grown program to help local residents with developmental disabilities maximize their potential has expanded into a neighboring county.
Downsize Farms is leasing a large building at 4815 Urbana Road in Clark County near the intersection of state Routes 72 and 334, between Urbana and Springfield. The plan is to operate a shred mill and wood shop in the structure by June 1. Downsize Director Bob Custer said he has several other ideas for the building, such as offices, a coffee shop or an event center. Downsize has established locations near Cable and in the city of Urbana.
“It all started back in November when we had been working with Clark County Developmental Disabilities, and they have a shred mill with equipment,” Custer said. “A secured shredding facility is apart from any old paper, they want secured documents and so it’s a secure operation, so there’s a little more to it than just throwing a piece of paper in a shredder. They were in a situation where they could no longer operate this, somewhat because of government regulations.”
“It was operated by the county, and the state no longer allows counties to operate their own services,” said Pearl Cline, program director. “There has to be a division between case management and providing of services, so that stopped workshops being run by counties. Now they’re privatized… Their shred mill was part of a day program, so because it can no longer be operated, we are partnering with them to take that out of the county run workshop and into a private provider status. Custer said Downsize is using it for a social enterprise business. “We’re still working out the kinks, but we’re helping people learn to work in the community,” he said.
The new building is being leased to Downsize Farms courtesy of a partnership with Woodruff Enterprises, which had been using the building for storage. Custer claims that no one had been in the building for two years, and that it is now being leased to them at a very reasonable rate.
“Our partnership with Woodruff is that he understands business from a standpoint that right now the shred mill is not a viable business by itself,” Custer said. “We probably couldn’t pay the total rent typically for that space. But we have a window of time to see if we can take that, move that in there, and make it work.”
Custer said they plan to sell the shredded paper, which will bring income to the business and make it financially sustainable.
The plan for the shred mill, as well as any other businesses that may be located inside the building, is to give adults with developmental disabilities the opportunity to learn how to work and become employable within the community.
“We see ourselves as a training facility to help support people on that process of developing their potential,” Custer said. “That’s what the shred mill brought to us. Here’s a place where potential can be discovered. It can be included in the community. They would be paid minimum wage during this process. It gives them dignity. It gives them a lot of things everybody else wants from a job, and then we can assess from that situation and give them on a resume that this person has one year of experience working at the shred mill.”
According to Cline, one of their premises is that they don’t ask businesses to employ somebody who is not a benefit to them. This process of offering job opportunities to developmentally disabled individuals will help them discover how they can be valuable to other businesses.
“When a person with a disability comes in and you say ‘do you want to work with people or without? Do you want to work inside or outside?’ you’re getting answers that they might not have a full understanding of what you’re asking,” she said. “We just had a person who came in and we thought he’d be great at working with the community, so we had him at the shred mill. The shred mill is more of a stationary activity, and he decided he didn’t like it. But what he did like is we had him in another opportunity shoveling something from one place to another, and he loved it. He wasn’t able to tell us he didn’t want to stand still and work with his hands, he wanted to use his whole body and be vigorously active, but this allowed us to discover that by observing and paying attention and communicating with him. So we’re not going to put him at the shred mill, we’re going to help him do something that helps develop his own skill sets.”
Downsize Farms began about 12 years ago and was motivated by Custer’s desire to find employment opportunities for his own two sons with Down syndrome. Five years ago they established the Just Right Jobs center to give developmentally disabled individuals the opportunity to work with the general community.
“It’s a really important tool to staying on task, staying in place during a shift and not wandering away,” said Cline. “We’re taking people out of that ‘it doesn’t matter what you do’ mentality to ‘if you’re going to work in a job you have to be a benefit to your employer’. Here’s a step toward that.”
Today the Custer boys are both 25 years old, and an additional 13 staff and 40 clients participate in daily events at Downsize Farm. Custer said he is hopeful that the new building will allow them to expand their programming in new ways, and that he plans to host an open house with tours of the facility closer to it’s unveiling in June.
Christopher Selmek can be reached at 937-508-2304