If you work or live in Garner, chances are you are familiar with Able to Serve. Participants in the educational and service program for adults with disabilities don’t sit still. They like to get out and get things done.
Their aim is to serve their community, and where they have not yet figured out a way to help out, they want to learn. The program’s participants are on the road two or three days a week for service projects, tours of businesses and government offices, and classes, or for some recreation, like bowling.
“A lot of Garner has learned about special needs individuals by us coming to them,” says Carlton McDaniel Jr., founder and executive director of Able to Serve.
Currently, 27 adults ages 18 to 65 with a range of physical and intellectual disabilities participate in Able to Serve’s program. Some attend five times a week for the full 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. day.
In part, Able to Serve exists to provide structure to the participants’ days and some respite for their families. But its goal is to enable its charges to become a part of their community through classes that teach skills and concepts they may have missed in school, and through service projects.
A lot of Garner has learned about special needs individuals by us coming to them.
Carlton McDaniel Jr., founder and executive director of Able to Serve
The program’s biggest project these days is doing the legwork for a local Backpack Buddies program, which fills backpacks with food each week for schoolkids in need to take home. The Able to Serve crew shops for the food and fills 120 backpacks to be distributed by a local Rotary club.
Selecting items, buying them, loading them into and off of the bus, and then sorting them hones life skills. Packing the backpacks builds skills that could be transferrable to work in a grocery store, says Ellen Beene, program coordinator.
“They’ve done really well,” Beene says. “They’ve gotten it down to where this week we did 120 bags in about 90 minutes.”
On a recent day, the group was back at its Buffaloe Road home adjacent to Lord of Life Lutheran Church for lunch after taking a Zumba class and putting information packets in pew pockets at First Baptist Church of Garner. Program participants also prepare the bulletin for Lord of Life each week, a job that requires collating, folding and stapling the multipage publication and that helps out a part-time church secretary.
Sandy Petty’s 29-year-old daughter, Beryl, has been a part of Able to Serve for about 6½ years. She says Beryl, who has autism, has learned social skills and has developed friendships and a sense of purpose. “She always says, ‘I’ve got to go there today and be there for Miss Ellen.’ ”
“She likes to be busy,” Petty says. “But she needs someone to guide her, and I just can’t guide her 24 hours a day.”
Classes after lunch and cleanup, for which everyone has assigned chores, may see members just out of high school work on counting and arithmetic, or feature a visit from a Rotarian who explains to the older adults what’s required of his job.
On a field trip to a local Jeep dealership to learn about the process of buying a car, a salesman described three models of Jeep, followed by another who talked to the group about how financing a car works and the need to save for a down payment and then make monthly payments. A follow-up trip to a garage included a discussion about the need to take care of a vehicle.
Buying a vehicle of their own may not be in anyone’s future, but knowing about the process connects them a little better to what family and friends go through. In fact, McDaniel says replacing the 16-year-old van and 17-year-old bus that the group uses could be a real concern for the nonprofit program soon.
Fees to attend Able to Serve, which run from $200 a month for two days a week to $500 a month for five, cover about 40 percent of program costs per participant. Other funding comes from donations and grants; the program doesn’t accept government money, McDaniel says.
Most grants have been for about $1,000 to $1,500. A recent grant from two Garner Rotary clubs, plus a match from Rotary International, brought in $8,000 that is being used to buy computers for participants to use.
Printer ink – which needs to be color to better meet program participants’ needs – and other office and school supplies are a constant need. And because the program is so often on the go, donations of prepaid gas cards are a another way to help out, McDaniel says.
Like many nonprofits, Able to Serve relies on volunteers to supplement two full-time and two part-time staff members. Having a pool of volunteers to call on as need arises would make things more comfortable, Beene says. McDaniel adds that they’ve started a greenhouse on the program’s small campus, so volunteers with gardening skills would be helpful.
Able to Serve
2100-B Buffaloe Road
Garner, NC 27529
Contact: Carlton McDaniel Jr., 919-779-5545
Description: Able to Serve provides opportunities for adults with disabilities to develop important life skills and use their abilities to serve others in need.
Donations needed: Educational supplies, gas cards, commercial color laser printer, wheelchair accessible van.
Volunteers needed: Day Program (Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-3 p.m.), guest speakers, guest musicians, arts/crafts instructors, van drivers.
$10 would buy: Classroom supplies, laundry detergent/dryer sheets, pencils/notebook paper.
$20 would buy: Markers, construction paper, learning game, breakfast muffins for participants.
$50 would buy: Fuel for van, pizza lunch for participants, bowling day for participants.