LIFESPAN opens its doors to share mission with the community
BY DEBBIE PAGE
Broad smiles and warm handshakes greeted visitors for Monday morning’s open house at LIFESPAN’s Troutman Creative Campus.
“Everything here is made by individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Alisha Cordle, program director, as she proudly led visitors around a gallery of artwork as well as beautifully painted corn hole boards.
Tom Hendren, art coordinator, came to LIFESPAN seven years ago after several decades traveling the world in his career as a customer service sales representative with Dana. “It’s been more rewarding than anything I’ve ever done. It’s amazing how they steal your heart, and the families become part of your life too. It makes you feel really good.”
Hendren said that the artists use scrap wood from various business donors as well as rocking chair bottoms provided by Troutman Chair Company to create the various art work, including plaques and unique animal sculptures. They also do all the painting of the pieces.
“”They are doing stuff now that they didn’t think they could do,“ Hendren said of his students’ progress. “They keep surprising me every day. Almost every one of them has gone leaps and bounds from where they were when we started.”
One nonverbal client, Kelsey, has just “blossomed” in the program, creating colorful paintings and hand painting unique designs on her handcrafted Christmas ornaments.
Troutman Chair also gives out the clients’ handmade flag plaques, made from its donated chair bottoms, to dealers who order a large quantity of their products. The company also recently donated four of its lumbar support rockers to LIFESPAN for clients and staff to enjoy. “We have really truly been blessed,” said Hendren.
Samara Moore, program coordinator, and client Cecil showed visitors into the spacious exercise room, where participants take classes and work on their dance skills each Thursday with volunteers from Betty’s School of Dance.
Clients can also hone their skills in the computer lab, sewing room, game room/library, music room, and professional kitchen from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each day in the creative campus’s many offerings.
Fred Tippett of Mitchell Community College also comes in to teach literacy, speaking, vocabulary, and social and professional skills. “We also try to work in some games to make learning fun for everyone,” he said.
Tippett, who has taught onsite at LIFESPAN for 20 years, encouraged each of his students to greet visitors by introducing themselves while looking into the person’s eyes and shaking hands.
Clients also enjoy time together in the cafeteria at lunch as well as relaxation time in the calming, darkened sensory room, which features comfy chairs and quiet along with a gurgling aquarium.
Moore said students enjoy cooking treats and meals in the kitchen. Money for the food comes from grants and donations from groups such as the West Iredell Ruritan Club and the Knights of Columbus.
The kitchen’s “snack shack” also provides clients with some business skill practice since they have to collect the money and count out change to customers.
LIFSPAN also encourages participants to enjoy and learn in the outdoors. Visitors viewed the memorial garden, which honors former clients who have passed away with an individual name plaque that features a symbol of his or her interests and personality.
Participants also develop gardening skills in the center’s raised beds, barrel gardens, and greenhouse during the growing seasons with the help of instructor Ron Buckless. They also learn how to raise poultry and gather eggs in the chicken coop. Client Lisa Davidson enthusiastically showed visitors around the greenhouse area.
Program participants also enjoy taking long walks in nature on the wheel chair-accessible nature trail, which is the only one in North Carolina. “We really take pride in that,” said Moore. The trail is also open for use by the public any time.
The trail is part of the Blue Sky Nature Center, which serves people of all ages with or without disabilities who want to celebrate nature, regardless of their physical limitations. The certified wildlife habitat provides food, water, shelter, and safe places for wildlife to raise their young.
Community groups helped create this environment, which features benches designed for people of different abilities, numerous birdhouses, sensory gardens, butterfly and hummingbird attraction beds and gardens, water features, chimes, herb containers, vegetable beds, and floral areas with both annuals and perennials.
The eventual goal is to connect the LIFESPAN trail to the Troutman greenway system so that it will extend all through the town, according to Moore. The trail area also features a wooden stage and spectator benches as well as several overlooks to view the picturesque woods.
One area along the trail also features colorful sensory stick art for those who are visually impaired to touch as well as for the enjoyment of onlookers.
Moore and Hendren noted that LIFESPAN welcomes donations of materials for use in its creative programs. Fabric and sewing supplies, musical instruments, craft materials, books, gardening supplies and equipment, packaged/canned food or baking supplies, and board games are welcome. Monetary donations to help with program needs are also appreciated.
Donors can call 704-873-5646 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to arrange donations to the facility, which is located at 143 Iredell Avenue in Troutman.