By NATALIE DEVLIN
Harold Helvey graduated from Hickman High School on a Friday in early June of 1993. The following Monday, he started working at Central Missouri Subcontracting Enterprises, a sheltered workshop in Columbia that employs people with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses. Helvey has autism.
If you live near Shepard Boulevard, you have probably seen Helvey in the neighborhood. Growing up there, Helvey used to walk around the neighborhood every day. He comes to back to Shepard every Saturday now to spend time with his parents and ride his bike around the neighborhood. He lives at a Woodhaven house, which helps people with developmental disabilities by providing supervision in their own homes.
Bill and Julia Helvey, Harold’s parents, said they did not have any reservations about him going to work at CMSE immediately after high school. Bruce Young, the director of CMSE, said some parents worry about their child working at a sheltered workshop.
“Some are scared that if they come to the workshop, they’ll be here forever, and that’s just not the case,” Young said.
The Helveys, however, were not concerned. They said it is unlikely that Harold will ever work in the competitive job market.
“He needs a more structured environment,“ Bill Helvey said.
Harold Helvey said he enjoys working at the workshop, where he has lots of friends. “I know everyone here,” he said. “They’re nice people.”
His father said it’s not the work that’s most important. “It’s the social part,” he said.
Young said people with developmental disabilities tend to have difficulties with socializing in the workplace. That’s not Harold Helvey’s problem, Young said — he makes a point of knowing everyone.
Julia Helvey agrees. She recalled an administrator at a Hickman summer program telling her, “‘Every time we start down the hall with Harold, everyone calls out and says hi.'”
A Saturday routine
Every Saturday, Helvey comes to Shepard to see his parents. He follows the same route: He rides the city bus to the Dairy Queen on Business 70 where his parents meet him. Bill Helvey said Harold’s schedule is so consistent that if the bus drivers didn’t see him there one Saturday, they would probably be worried about him.
Harold Helvey likes the sounds and movement of the buses. “They are noisy buses,” he said.
When he gets to his old neighborhood, Helvey rides his bike. It’s a newer form of recreation for him. He used to walk around the neighborhood, which he had been doing since he was 2 years old, his mother said.
“We found that walking helped ease his tensions and nervousness,“ Bill Helvey said.
Julia Helvey said walking in the neighborhood also helped him to get used to talking to and interacting with different people and is probably part of the reason her son is talkative now. She told a story about two boys in the neighborhood who used to stop playing basketball when Helvey walked by to let him take a shot.
“The neighborhood has been really great to him.” Bill Helvey said.
In the workshop
The workshop was established by Woodhaven Learning Center by Frank Ackerman in 1969. Now it is one of more than 90 sheltered workshops in Missouri. It was bought by CMSE in 1981. Ackerman was active in the special education program because his son had Down syndrome. After his son graduated, Ackerman wanted him to have an opportunity to work so he started the workshop, Young said.
“(Ackerman) set up what is called the industrial model,” Young said.
The workshop functions as an assembly line. Each employee has a station and is responsible for one small part of the job. One day, Helvey was in charge of putting screws into bags. When he finished, the bags went to another worker who sealed the bags off.
“They’re happy and they’re busy and it’s not only their work; for many of them it’s their family and their social network,” Julia Helvey said.
Unlike a lot of other sheltered workshops, CMSE is not a rehabilitation facility; under the industrial model 75 to 80 percent of money needed to run the workshop comes from the work done there. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education also contributes funds. However, it is a nonprofit organization.
Last year, CMSE starting a project called the Giving Gardens. CMSE lost a major contract and needed to diversify to continue making enough revenue and having enough work for the employees to do.
Retired horticulturist Bill Regan had the idea of creating the Giving Gardens. Regan started a similar program in Oregon called Greenleaf Industries. Regan and Young were able to devise a marketing plan with the help of MU journalism students. The students worked with the Giving Gardens as their capstone project.
“If it weren’t for those students, we couldn’t have done it,” Young said.
Young said the gardens have possible therapeutic benefits for the employees that the workshop cannot offer. “It’s quieter and you focus on the plants and watch them grow,” he said.
Young said he tries to “give everyone who wants to, a chance work out in the greenhouse.”