The craft room at Rainbow Abilities Center in Union was humming with chatter and the sound of a sewing machine last Thursday as participants and staff worked together to make “knot” pillows — long skinny pillows that can be “tied” into different kinds of loose knots.
After picking out fabric and folding it over, the participants took turns sitting at the sewing machine with a staff member to help guide their fabric under the needle, before helping to poke stuffing into their pillows.
In various rooms around the Rainbow facility, other participants were accomplishing similar tasks. In the kitchen, for example, a group was working together to make a cheesecake.
Even more participants were out in the community providing volunteer services like helping to deliver Meals on Wheels and picking up plastic bottles from various places and delivering them to the recycle center.
Soon the participants will be volunteering with the Wildcat Backpack Program for the Union School District.
“We will be breaking down boxes, helping to put together the snacks and delivering them to Beaufort School,” said Lori Schaedler, executive director at Rainbow Abilities Center.
The nonprofit agency, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, is a developmental day program for adults with disabilities.
Rainbow provides activities and programs to assist individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities in acquiring and improving both skills and socialization. The agency serves adults with disabilities who have completed school, which typically is age 21 and older.
“Our target population are people who want to learn and grow in their goals and skills and people who want to give back to their community,” said Schaedler.
Next week, Rainbow, which is an agency of the Franklin County Area United Way, will open its doors for an agency tour Thursday, Aug. 23. Representatives of the United Way’s Top 30 corporate donors, board members, agency representatives and the general public are all invited to attend the tour.
The tour will begin with coffee, pastries and networking from 8 to 8:30 a.m. at the United Way office, located at 301 W. Front St. in Washington. OATS buses will transport participants to Union and back. The bus will return to the United Way office before noon.
Anyone interested in participating in the tour is asked to call the United Way office at 636-239-1018 or email email@example.com.
Rainbow also is a pilot company for the United Way’s upcoming 2018 campaign.
New Facility and Name
Earlier this year, Rainbow moved into an expansive 12,000-square-foot building adjacent to Great 8 Cinema in Union. The agency had previously worked out of two locations in Union which provided a total of 3,000 square feet between them, said Schaedler.
They were able to offer all of the same services that they do now in those smaller spaces, but it was a much more restrictive set up, Schaedler noted. Many spaces served double duty, so equipment had to be gotten out and put away for each use.
The new space, which had most recently been home to Nothing Fancy Cafe, has brought all of the people Rainbow serves under one roof and allowed the center to welcome even more. Previously Rainbow served 38 people and had a waiting list, said Schaedler, but now at the new facility they are able to serve 46 people and have room to grow.
In fact, at this point they are not even using the entirity of the building yet. There is about 2,000 square feet that is still open for plans, said Schaedler.
There are 19 staff members with plans to hire two more, and also a nine-member board of directors.
The new facility includes an exercise room where participants, particularly those in wheelchairs, can receive help with stretching and range of motion movements; a home living area where participants can learn skills such as laundry, making a bed and setting a table; a computer area where they can practice digital skills like swiping, tapping and double clicking; a dining room, where they can practice social etiquette and learn how to use a microwave; a kitchen, where they can get experience with following a recipe, measuring, pouring, stirring and such; and a listening area, where they can listen to books on tape and music.
In the craft and creative area where they made the knot pillows, participants also can do things like paint, build and weave.
The new facility also features a meeting room, which the organization never had before, and many bathrooms, almost too many to count, which is extremely useful, said Schaedler.
At the same time Rainbow moved into its new building, the agency decided to tweak its name from the Rainbow Activities Center to Rainbow Abilities Center.
The word “abilities” better reflects the agency’s focus, said Schaedler.
Seeking Volunteers to Share Talents, Interests
Since moving into the new facility, Schaedler is looking for more ways to help Rainbow participants make connections and build relationships with other people around their community.
One way of doing that is by having people who have a talent or interests they would like to share come to the facility to volunteer. That talent or skill could be anything, said Schaedler.
“With our creativity room, the sky’s the limit really,” she said, noting that volunteers could come in once to see how they like it or set up a weekly or regular visit.
“One of our main goals is to have relationships with people,” said Schaedler. “For years and years, within this area of supporting people with developmental disabilities, we’ve always tried to be out in the community in ways that are valued roles where we can make those connections and gain those relationships, because people are social. We want that, and they want that.
“We are trying to facilitate that. That’s why we have such a huge volunteer program, so we can give back to the community and provide opportunities to the people we support to build their skills, but it’s also to build relationships with the community members.”
Currently Rainbow participants volunteer at places such as:
Exceptional Equestrians; Humane Society; Agape in St. Clair, Union and Pacific; Veterans Memorial; Mom’s Morning Out; Black Madonna Shrine; World Bird Sanctuary; Victorian Manor in Washington and Union; Grandview Healthcare; and Union Senior Center.
They try to have the same participants volunteer in the same places each time so that they begin to build those relationships with the people they meet in those places, Schaedler noted.
With the new Rainbow facility so close to East Central College, the agency is looking at ways it can partner with the college, perhaps having students volunteer at the center.
“We want to harness the resource of having the college students so close,” said Schaedler.
But they also welcome anyone with some hobby or talent to come in to share that with the participants.
One idea they had is to find someone who is good at making wood templates to help participants in making things like bat houses, that could be set up around the community to help control the mosquitoes.
“We have people who like to build things and get excited by screwing things together, so we want to provide activities where they can use that talent but also have it benefit someone else or the community,” said Schaedler.
Another goal the staff has is to add planter beds and a garden area on the property, where participants can get involved.
“We would love to plant sunflowers and things like that so we can harvest the seeds and fill birdfeeders at senior living areas or something like that,” said Schaedler. “We want to find ways that we can use our interests to do something good for others at the same time.”
‘I Like It All’
Marcia Holdmeyer, Union, has been a participant at Rainbow for years, and is grateful for all of the opportunities it provides her.
“First, you can go out in the community. Sometimes you just stay here too,” she said. “There’s four or five senior centers that you can go to, and you can even go to Petco, Walmart, shopping. You can do a lot of other stuff too. We have a workshop here you can make and create stuff.”
Holdmeyer said there’s too many fun things for her to pick just one favorite.
“What isn’t a favorite?” she asked. “I like it all.”
Last Thursday, Holdmeyer was working in the Rainbow kitchen, “getting all the silverware out.
“I didn’t get to the laundry yet, but someone else was doing that,” she remarked.
Holdmeyer likes to stay busy. That’s why after working 25 years at Sheltered Industries, she wants to spend some of her retirement time at Rainbow where she can work at her own pace, do fun activities and have friends to talk with.
“Any jobs we can find for Marcia, she is interested in,” said Schaedler, noting one of the things Holdmeyer helps staff with is interviewing for new hires.
“She is a very competent woman, very savvy with knowing people and what to look for in people she wants providing services to her,” said Schaedler. “It’s nice when she can sit in on an interview. She comes up with some good questions.”
‘Job of Convenience’ Turned Into ‘a Blessing’
When Kimberly Bagley, lead staff support professional, joined the Rainbow staff 22 years ago, she thought it would be a transitional job. As a single mother of three young children at the time, she needed something that matched their school hours and allowed her to be home with them on weekends.
It wasn’t long before she realized the job fit her needs in other ways too.
“It started out as a job of convenience,” said Bagley. “But it turned into a blessing.
“I love what I do. It makes you appreciate life. The small things people take for granted, some of our clients aren’t able to do.”
Bagley’s job at Rainbow is something new every day.
“I am on the floor working with the consumers, passing out meds, doing outings, doing scheduling, assisting in the restroom, whatever is needed,” she said.
“It’s a blessing to be able to work here with so many different levels of abilities. Every day is totally different. We do have set things that we do, but we also get to do outings and field trips.”
The one rule she abides by in doing her work is the same one she lives her own life by:
“You treat people how you would want to be treated and how you would want your loved one to be treated — with dignity and respect,” said Bagley.
Opened 35 Years Ago
Rainbow Activity Center was opened in 1983 by a group of parents of adults with developmental disabilities. Initially the center was designed to meet the needs of students who had graduated from Autumn Hill State School.
Today Rainbow Abilities Center is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Participants have the choice of attending as often or as little as they like, said Schaedler, noting some people attend as little as one day a week.
Rainbow Abilities Center is funded primarily through Medicaid waivers, but also receives funding from the Franklin County Area United Way and the Franklin County Senate Bill 40 Resource Board.
Many local groups and businesses also provide donations that enable the center to make improvements and provide services.
“This community in many ways has been very supportive of us over the years,” Schaedler stressed.