story by Brittany Shepard | photos by Drew Chapman
Established in 1958, the Wiregrass Rehabilitation Center (WRC) was founded to provide work training and employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities in an effort to help them become more independent and increase their quality of life.
WRC is a nonprofit organization governed by an 18-member board of directors and currently serves 12 counties in Southeast Alabama, 19 counties in Southwest Georgia and 19 counties in the Florida panhandle.
“It is our goal to train those that we can in our Work Services Center and get them working in the community,” said Director of Development Cynthia Green. “But trainees may also be hired on to work in one of our many on-site divisions.”
Currently, WRC has multiple divisions that provide an array of work training programs to individuals. The trainees are most often referred to WRC through the Department of Rehabilitation Services but can also be referred to WRC from members of the community.
Divisions of WRC include Assured Data Destruction for businesses, WRC Laundry & Linen Services for the healthcare industry, Environmental Services, Wiregrass Adult Daycare and Industrial Services among many more.
Another division of the WRC is Sterling Event Services – a full-service catering, party planning and event management service that also offers facility rental on the WRC campus for corporate meetings, galas and fundraisers, social events and business luncheons.
The event facility, called Rotary Hall, was originally a dormitory on the WRC campus that housed individuals while they were involved in WRC’s rehabilitation program. But, in the seventies, the dormitory was no longer needed and the building was converted to an event facility. Sterling Event Services was then founded to provide the full-service catering and event planning service.
“We now have a space that can seat 400 – 425 people, banquet-style, that can also be divided into three smaller rooms,” said Sterling Events Food Service Coordinator Cheryl McLendon. “The Dothan Rotary Club meets here as well as other local civic clubs for their lunch meetings.”
The entire WRC campus of nearly 27 acres is owned by the Dothan Rotary Children’s Foundation.
Cynthia and Cheryl sat down to tell our readers more about the ins and outs of Sterling Event Services and how the food services training program works.
Interview with Cynthia Green & Cheryl McLendon
Director of Development & Food Service Coordinator
How does Sterling Event Services fit into the vision and mission of the Wiregrass Rehabilitation Center?
Cynthia: Food Service training – just like all of our other training programs – is an opportunity for individuals to learn a skill and find a job in the community.
What services does Sterling Events provide to the community?
Cheryl: As far as the catering is concerned, we can do anything from boxed lunches to simple buffets to plated meals. We have a large cookie business at Christmas time where many local business send our cookies to their clients. We also offer facility space, event planning and catering for business training events, galas and fundraisers, corporate conferences, civic club meetings, social events, weddings and receptions and more. The events that happen during the day whether at our facility or the client’s are great for members of our training program to really get experience with food service.
Cynthia: Not only do we provide all the services that Cheryl mentioned, but they start early at 5:00 in the morning to prepare meals for our three adult daycare centers in Dothan, Elba and Enterprise as well as for SpectraCare’s group homes.
How does the food service training program work?
Cynthia: Individuals are referred to WRC then paired up based on their skill sets and skill interests with a training program that will most likely fit them best. They are then trained in one of our programs. WRC job developers help the individuals find the right job for them, and counseling services helps them as they start their new jobs. We stay with them for 90 days, like a job coach, to ensure that it is working out where they are placed.
Cheryl: The food service training program can last from six weeks to a couple of months, depending on the individual. During the program, our trainees experience everything from food preparation to buffet setup to bussing tables and customer service. They get a nice overview of what it would look like to work in a restaurant in several different capacities. So, they serve as the staff for Sterling Event Services helping with all of our catering and event planning services whether in Rotary Hall or off-site at a client’s location. After they have completed the training, they may have the opportunity to be hired directly to Sterling Event Services or their on-site job developers help them seek out a job in the community.
How does working with Sterling Events impact the trainees that participate in the program?
Cynthia: Some of the difficulties our trainees face include working alongside peers, being at work on time, knowing how to clock in and out, etc. So, while they are going through our program we help them learn those skills here at our center to make them a more marketable employee for our community. And, they are earning a paycheck as they are learning. Also, there are very few training centers like ours (none in our area) that focus on integrating disabled people and non-disabled people in a work environment.
Cheryl: Our focus is not really as much to train for a vocational skill even though that does happen, but a huge part of the training program is them learning how to properly conduct themselves with co-workers, how to interact with supervisors, how to be on time and how to stay on task. Beyond that, you see their confidence level come up because someone believes that they can do this job. You see them blossom when they realize they did the job. Yes, they learn all the vocational skills along the way, but overall the biggest thing is their confidence level and the assurance that they can do it!
What is the most rewarding thing about working with WRC and Sterling Event Services?
Cheryl: For me, it goes back to that look on the person’s face when they realize they are capable of doing the job. With some individuals it may take a while for them to learn a skill, and you wonder if you are making a difference. But, when you see that realization dawn on them that they can do this, to me, that is the most rewarding thing. They begin to see themselves doing the job here at Sterling and elsewhere in the community.
What is your organization’s greatest need and how can our readers help further your mission?
Cynthia: First, try us if you haven’t tried us as your event venue and catering service! Second, think of us first when you are hiring new employees. Be willing to take a risk on a disabled employee. We can tell you that they make better workers than some because 1 – they need the paycheck and 2 – the job means a lot to them. Also, we would invite the community to come and see what they are giving to. As a United Way agency, we are thankful for the individuals that give to the community through that organization. We thank the community for believing in us and supporting us since 1958.
Where can our readers go for more information?
Readers can visit www.WRCJobs.com to learn more about Wiregrass Rehabilitation Center and all of its divisions.
To learn more about Sterling Event Services and how to book an event with them, visit
www.MySterlingEvent.com. Readers can also find us on Facebook.