But that was not always the case. The 30-year-old mildly developmentally-challenged man had been living in Douglasville with his father and then in the basement of a sister’s home there.
He was working, but only two to four hours a week, with an overabundance of idle time.
Last year, however, Griffin Area Resource Center (GARC) Executive Director Cary Grubbs says Taylor came to the center the same way a lot of others participants do.
“This is how it happens half the time,” Grubbs said about how he was approached by another one of Taylor’s sisters who lives in Griffin. “I’m standing back near the ground beef section in the grocery store and somebody comes up to me and says, ‘I’ve got something I want to ask you. I’ve got a brother or I’ve got a cousin and they are dealing with this. Is there anything you can do to help?”
Taylor came in for a meeting with the GARC staff.
“Our approach with him typifies how we go about things,” Grubbs said. “We started talking to Taylor about what he wanted in his life. If there’s one thing we can point to between now and day one of the life of the organization it would be that. We talk to the people directly and try to learn what they want.”
Taylor was crystal clear. He wanted to work and he didn’t want to live in an apartment or a basement. He wanted to live in a house and, preferably, without a roommate.
Last September, Taylor moved into one of GARC’s residential homes. He now lives alone in a house and works from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, at Caterpillar and is loving it.
“He’s doing great,” said Harriett Jones, one of two GARC support coordinators. “From the time he moved to Griffin to the time he’s been at Caterpillar and until now, we’ve never had a problem with Taylor. He’s living on his own with minimal support. The hours he works suit him and he gets whatever benefits that come with the number of hours he is there.”
According to Grubbs, Taylor is a testimony to the changes that have taken place at GARC from the time it was founded in 1955 by two local doctors who got involved with working with children with Down Syndrome. As the children got older, the organization’s vision shifted.
“We evolved in a more dramatic way about how we think folks who have developmental disabilities ought to be treated,” Grubbs said. “Back in the older days, the thinking was, ‘We need a place for these people.’ If there is a diametric opposite to that, that’s were we are now. They don’t need a place. They have a place. They have a community and we sort of press and push for folks to be involved in the community.”
Caterpillar is one of many companies and organizations GARC works with to employ or provide volunteer opportunities for its participants.
Home Depot currently employs two GARC participants and one has been working with the company for more than two years, at 40 hours a week. Hammond Heat-Cool, all three Rite Aid pharmacies and the Griffin-Spalding School System are also employers.
“We are sort of in a real love affair with Caterpillar,” Grubbs confessed of the two- to three-year relationship. “They came and saw what we did and said they thought they had some work they could subcontract with us over here. Then they got to thinking about it and felt it would work better if they created a particular job in the logistics end of Caterpillar over there.”
The company hired 12 to 13 GARC participants and the work has since been expanded to two shifts because of the demand.
In addition, Caterpillar has hired a number of other GARC participants, like Taylor, in other areas.
“They have high expectations for their employees and they hold our feet to the fire,” Grubbs said in reference to Caterpillar. “They don’t really cut us any slack. They depend on us to make sure the job they are asking us to do gets done.”
Other GARC participants have physical or cognitive challenges that prevent them from working a job. In those instances, Lisa Sassaman, director of the GARC training center, says participants are encouraged to look at volunteer opportunities.
“We use the same approach,” Sassaman said. “We ask them how they would like to design their lives and we support them in a large way in getting out into the community.”
“People are better in the community and we scratch our heads all the time seeing how we can make it happen,” Grubbs said.
There are now several long-term volunteers at the Food Pantry as well as the Salvation Army and Meals on Wheels.
Some have also taken advantage of a free program at Griffin Technical College and gone back to school to work on computer, math and life skills.
According to Grubbs, others have even bigger dreams.
“Sometimes people will share things with us they want to do,” he said. “Some may even want to learn to fly and the first instinct may be to think of all the reasons why this person may not be able to learn to fly, but one of the things we say to ourselves over and over again is no matter how unlikely or realistic it is, it’s important to respect other people’s dreams. Don’t spit on their dreams.”
According to Grubbs, the training center was originally designed to have more than 60 people in the building five days a week doing something.
“We don’t do that anymore,” Sassaman said, explaining that there are only maybe 20 to 25 people there on a heavy day. “Most of the people are out in the community.”
“Sometime last year, we really passed the center of gravity where we had more people out of here than we had in here and that’s something we had been driving at for a long time,” Grubbs said. “It was a quite and subtle victory. We were looking at some numbers and realized this thing we had been aiming at for so long had finally happened.”
There are 175 to 200 individual participants served at GARC each year, Sassaman said.
Some are students who come for a number of classes offered by GARC that include driver readiness, forklift operation and horticulture, and then leave. Others may be associated with GARC for their entire lives.
“We’re in this for a lifetime,” Sassaman said.
“If it’s a 3-year-old we might refer them out to Stepping Stones. They wind up in the school system. And we’ll be here when they get out of the school system,” Grubbs said.
The connection never ends, even if the participant has to be eventually transitioned as a senior citizen into a senior facility. The GAR staff stays in contact and helps wherever they can.
“I’m a Baptist minister. That’s how I started my adult life,” Grubbs said. “And I like to tell people I’m the pastor of the Griffin Area Resource Center,”
“And we are his flock,” Sassaman added.