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CVII serves vital community need - with a smile

Busy hands, happy hearts, and loving souls. That triad of virtues is a good way to describe the work that goes on every day at Cleveland Vocational Industries, Inc. (CVII) located at 650 N. Post Rd., Shelby.

CVII's motto "We believe that all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are defined by their own strengths, abilities and inherent value...not their disability", defines the work that goes on there and serves as a guidepost for its mission of uplifting, educating, and employing folks with a wide range of physical and mental challenges to be the best they can be.

Will Mabry has been CVII executive director for over two years but his involvement there goes back to 2012 when he joined the board of directors. He is passionate about CVII and his work.

"I have always been interested in people with intellectual and developmental challenges," Mabry said.

Mabry explained exactly what goes on at CVII.

"We offer a variety of services to address the needs of adults in the intellectually and developmentally disabled community who face barriers to employment," he said. "Our mission is to provide training and employment opportunities, as well as assistance with social, coping, and daily living skills.

Based on individual needs and desires, associates may be provided with classroom training emphasizing personal and social adjustment, job seeking and maintenance skills, personal grooming and hygiene, and communication skills.

Supported employment services are offered when an individual shows the aptitude for outside competitive employment but needs the support of a one-on-one worker to be successful in their new role. Supported employment includes activities needed to sustain paid work including supervision and training and is a paid position at minimum wage or higher.

We teach how to work, how to communicate with others, how to take care of your personal needs, and how to get along in your community more independently. Associates will determine goals to work towards while participating in

the program and we will assist associates in reaching their goals.

We help associates learn life skills including appropriate work habits, specific job skills, self-help skills, socialization skills, and communication skills. We offer people an opportunity to work if they could not be hired in a competitive environment. We give them meaning, purpose, and socialization."

According to Mabry, CVII has between 75-80 associates at any given time. Associates are referred to CVII by parents, guardians, Medicaid, and state agencies. Associates range in age from 25 to 81 years with the majority in the 40-50-year-old range.

Staff members number around 38 full-time and 18-20 part-time.

"Most are paraprofessionals trained to work with people who have intellectual or developmental disabilities," he said.

Staff members enjoy the CVII environment as well. Regina Bright has worked there for over 20 years.

"I love it," she said. "It's a rewarding job that teaches many life lessons."

Volunteers are always welcome at CVII.

"If you believe in humanity and the Golden Rule, this is a place to be part of," Mabry said.

On the facility side of things, CVII moved into its current 60k sq. ft. building in 1998. The structure includes offices, a cavernous work area, a spacious lunchroom, classrooms, and storage space. The walls are decorated with artwork done by associates and signage offering uplifting messages. The overall atmosphere is one of encouragement and hope.

The actual work that associates perform there varies but can include gathering bits and pieces and packaging them into assembly kits, placing labels on tape rolls and boxing them up, or making roof truss packages. Most of the jobs require a fair degree of manual dexterity and organizational skill.

While they work, associates socialize. Phillip Wright, 51, has been a CVII associate for over ten years.

"I like coming here," he said.

Ann Payne is a three-year associate.

"It is a good place to work and earn money," she said. "I learn new things too."

It takes considerable funding to keep CVII going.

"CVII is a non-profit," said Mabry. "The annual budget is between $1.8 million to $2 million. We are funded by state Medicaid and some federal Medicaid."

Some money also comes in from the CVII operated Alli's Cafe at 891 N. Post Rd. It also serves as a training center for CVII associates to learn about and try different jobs in the restaurant industry. Associates work with and under the supervision of full-time staff or job coaches while at Alli's. The café is open Monday - Friday 7:30am - 2:00pm to the public Monday through Friday, serving breakfast and lunch.

Overall, CVII is a unique oasis of loving kindness mixed with practical employment opportunity that fills an ongoing need.

"There are about 100 thousand people in Cleveland County, six to eight percent of which have some form of IDD (intellectual and developmental disabilities)," said Mabry. "We offer a unique service that gives them hope and self-esteem. I cannot ever see a time when we would not be needed."

To learn more, visit www.cvii.org and see how CVII benefits, not just the IDD community, but all the citizens of Cleveland County.

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