Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, April 19, 1999

ATHC fills a need for region

By Luis Puga

In Dick Genty's opinion, the Adult Training and Habilitation Center (ATHC) in Winsted fills a need.

A member of the ATHC's volunteer board, he recognizes that without such services, many of the customers, as they are called at ATHC, would not receive assistance.

Chairman Jim Moller agrees. A long-time board member and parent of one of the adult customers, he said that from his perspective, he is pleased with the ATHC's performance. Moller's proof is in the development of his own child.

Thursday, board members got to tour the facilities of the ATHC to get more first hand perspective on the organization's work.

They went not only to the Winsted location, but also the Young America Corporation in Norwood Young America and Crest Healthcare in Dassel. At all locations, they met the staff and customers that the ATHC serves.

In 1966, the ATHC was located in Biscay in an old school basement.

Over the years, it has changed its name many times, changing from the McLeod Day Center to the McLeod Day Achievement Center and Day Activity Center.

In 1980, "Winsted embraced this agency," Executive Director Stephen Wilson said.

The ATHC put out a needs assessment to see which cities would be interested in the program and Winsted opened up its community.

Moller admits that, initially he had some trepidation about having the facility in Winsted because of its eastern location and transportation issues. But now he sees it as a positive development, noting that the program now serves customers in not only McLeod County, but Meeker, Wright, Carver and Hennepin Counties as well.

So who are these customers?

They are people ­ people with developmental disabilities as their primary diagnosis, or most recognizable condition.

Wilson said that the customers range from very able persons to very dependent individuals. Currently, the program has about 99 such customers.

Licensed by the Department of Human Services, the ATHC's program is a strong departure from society's solutions for developmentally disabled persons a few years back. Often times, board members said, a parent's only choice was a state hospital and at times, it wasn't a choice.

Missy Karl notes that doctors would often tell parents they were ill suited to care for such an individual and commitment would follow.

Karl, prior to the tour, recognized the voice of a customer as someone who went to school with one of her sons. Board members explained how just a few years ago, that customer would not have been in school with Karl's son.

In 1976, the laws changed and developmentally disabled persons had to be educated in public schools.

This type of programming is an alternative to commitment. Here, the customer is trained in individualized vocational programs.

There is also non-vocational training in the form of a Steps program. Here, the customer learns about recreation and leisure, integration, and community involvement.

During the tour, customers are anxious to greet board members. In each room, a board member gets a smile and a hearty handshake.

The rooms each appear to have a different focus. This speaks to the individualized focus of the programs. Each person is placed in environment that is suited to them.

In one room, Wilson shows off a communication device. A group of pictures lie over some buttons representing greetings, people in the office, and even what the customer might want. Such devices help to get around communication problems.

Another service comes in the form of supportive employment, or placing these persons in jobs around the area. The ATHC contracts with many employers in the area and Wilson noted how easy it has been to get work for his customers.

Some work is done at St. Mary's Care Center's laundry as well as Holy Trinity Church in the custodial department, or the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school lunch room.

On the tour, the board members visit the mail room at Young America Corporation where customers sort bins of mail into post office boxes.

The objective of the customers' employment is the same as for anybody else. The customers, of course, get paid, but like most of us, they take pride in their work and are happy to do it.

Wilson noted the enjoyment his clients get. As he prepared for the tour, a customer greeted him in the hall. Wilson asked how he's doing today, and the customer replied, "I am happy."

Funding for the ATHC programs comes from contracts with companies and fundraising.

The ATHC will be hosting a golf tournament Monday, June 14. For information, contact Wilson at (320) 485-4191.

Next year will be the ATHC's 35th anniversary, another big event for the organization, said Wilson.

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