By Starrla Cray
WINSTED Not too long ago, Tom Ollig was like most longtime residents of Winsted. He’d driven by the Adult Training and Habilitation Center (ATHC) hundreds of times, but wasn’t aware of everything that makes the place special.
“I was someone on the outside looking in,” Ollig said. “I didn’t really know much about the ATHC and what they did.”
That all changed in late April, when Ollig joined the staff as foundation development director. In this newly-created position, Ollig has been working to educate the public about the ATHC and bring in donations.
“Now that I’m on the inside looking out, I’m totally amazed at the caring of the employees and the caring of the clients,” Ollig said.
Between its two locations (one at 311 Fairlawn Ave. in Winsted, and the other at 425 California St. NW in Hutchinson), the ATHC employs about 45 people, and serves about 140 clients.
The clients are people with a wide range of disabilities. Some are able to do many of the same activities as the general public, while others are quite limited. The ATHC staff works with each individual to help them reach their potential.
“The clients that are here are just like you and me,” Ollig said. “They want to work; they want to be productive. Through no fault of their own, nature dealt them a different hand.”
Help for area businesses
Although ATHC clients may not be able to get a “regular” job, many are still able to work in some capacity.
ATHC often partners with area businesses and organizations for jobs that can be done in the facility or out in the community. It could be cleaning a church, packaging small components, or assembling product parts. A few places ATHC clients have helped include Crest Health Care in Dassel, AWI Manufacturing in Winsted, and Dura Supreme Cabinetry in Howard Lake.
“We’re looking for opportunities,” said Kevin Dietrich, ATHC’s executive director.
Businesses and organizations are welcome to contact the ATHC for details. The service area includes Winsted, Litchfield, Howard Lake, Lester Prairie, Waverly, Waconia, Buffalo, Watertown, Mayer, Plato, Norwood/Young America, Glencoe, Stewart, Brownton, Cokato, Dassel, Darwin, and Hutchinson. Transportation is provided by ATHC and Trailblazer Transit.
The ATHC also has job opportunities for the general public. About three to six job postings are usually listed on www.athc.org at any given time, according to Dietrich.
“People don’t always think about working for a non-profit, but they can make a career out of it,” he said. “Whatever skill you have, we’re looking for it.”
Employees receive 30 hours of training prior to working with clients. From there, management helps find the area that would best fit. Some employees, for example, may be more comfortable working with higher-functioning clients at first.
One employee, Sara Penaz, has been at the ATHC for 10 years.
“I actually love my job,” Penaz commented. “Even if I’m having a bad day, there will always be one thing that will turn it around when I come here.”
One client, for example, often tells Penaz how nice she looks.
“I could be wearing pajamas and he’d still say it,” she laughed. “It makes my day.”
A ‘wonderful’ place
Ollig has enjoyed getting to know the clients, too.
“To be quite honest, at first when I came here I wasn’t sure how I would react to all this, but I love it. It’s wonderful,” he commented.
Some clients greet him with “good morning” each day, and some show him pictures of their accomplishments, such as catching a fish.
“You might think some of these individuals don’t interact, but in their own way, they do,” he said. “In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve seen little miracles every day.”
Ollig said the ATHC operates on a “shoestring” budget, and the center appreciates monetary donations of any size. A few items on the ATHC wish list include industrial vacuum cleaners, handicap-accessibility for certain doors, a program to translate spoken words to sign language, a new furnace, and more.
People can also help the ATHC by donating items to The Attic Thrift and Gift, and by shopping there. The store is located in the same building as the ATHC, and donations are welcome 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. The store can be reached at 320-485-4191.
The Adult Training and Habilitation Center is a 501C3 nonprofit organization licensed by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
The center in Winsted is located at 311 Fairlawn Ave.
For more information about admission criteria, programs, business partnerships, vocational training, or other questions, call 320-485-4191 or e-mail email@example.com.