Budget cuts hit local special needs group

For one children's center in Allendale, Christmas break is still going on - and will continue through the new year.

The children's center was run by the Allendale and Barnwell Counties Disabilites and Special Needs Board. However, because of state budget cuts, the center will not re-open after the holidays.

Before the economy took a downturn, news of state budget cutbacks loomed. Since the fall of the economy, those cutbacks have worked down to the local levels.

Bob Jones, the executive director of ABDSNB, said there have been a lot of hard decisions made, with many more anticipated.

One of those cuts is in office staff. Each staff person has cut out a few hours each Friday to help with the budget and allows everyone to stay employed, at least for now, he said.

Of the cutbacks, the children's center is the one which brought tears to Jones' eyes as he spoke about it.

This center provided day care for mothers who wanted to go to work each day and also provided a little relief for those mothers who do not work but need a little time from the children.

The center was located in Allendale County.

As of Dec. 23, the center closed for the holidays but will not be able to reopen, Jones said.

The center employed five staff members and served 23 children, he said.

Staff are working to place the children with other agencies which may be able to help the families, he said.

The agency helps more than children - who may be affected by the state budget cuts.

Each day approximately 160 individuals come to the two centers in Allendale and Barnwell Counties for the adult day programs. Some perform jobs, which they are extremely proud of and others, senior citizens, are given the chance to sit and talk with others and do craft projects.

But that is not the only thing DSN does. Just a few days before Christmas, offices were filled with presents in every stage of the wrapping process. Some were finished and neatly stacked awaiting their turn to be given to a needy child. Others waited on an office table to receive their wrapping. One worker, Debra Gilliard, an Early interventalist, was headed out to meet with some parents and children and to deliver presents.

Some of those children also receive speech therapy and family support. Some children are referred to developmental pediatricians to catch signs of developmental delays early, she said.

"So much of what they do will save money and services down the road," said Bob Jones, executive director of DSN.

Jones said operational funds cannot be used to purchase presents for the children and other clients. Those funds must come from local donations of individuals and corporate sponsors like Collum Lumber.

"It's been very gratifying seeing the community step up," Jones said of the rough economic times.

DSN clients perform many jobs - jobs that affect their lives. Some of the jobs DSN clients perform include: lawn care, office cleaning, removing labels, laundering bags and some supportive employment.

The agency also provides some clients with residential housing and supervised living arrangements.

Two of the jobs performed save local industries money.

Milliken contracts with DSN to remove labels from fabric samples so those samples can be recycled.

NutraSweet contracts with DSN to launder bags which hold their sweetner for them.

Previously, NutraSweet was able to use the bags one time and they were then thrown out. Now NutraSweet sends the used bags to DSN where the bags are laundered, quality control checks are performed and repairs made. The bags are then re-laundered, receives a plastic insert and is folded and packed to send back to NutraSweet. The bags see three to four uses now, he said.

"We want to be seen as contributing members of the society," Jones said.

Another feature at DSN is their auto shop.

Jones said the employees of the shop maintain all the agency's vehicles, saving them money during the year.

Jones would like to see some improvements for those his agency serves as well.

There is a fenced-in area between two of the buildings. Jones would like to see an awning constructed with some lounge chairs and tables for clients to be able to sit and relax, he said.