ELLISVILLE — Movie theaters, doctors’ offices, grocery stores and even bowling alleys all profit from Ellisville State School for the mentally handicapped.
The State School, with a payroll of $39 million and an employee count of 1,472, is a major contributor to the Ellisville area. The facility spends dollars with area businesses as well as serving as an educational facility for residents.
“I know it employs a great number of people,” Ellisville resident Ann McGraw said. “From that aspect it has to impact our community financially from all the money turning over.”
“But I also think the people in this community realize what a service this provides for many people and we’re glad that it’s here,” McGraw said.
McGraw came in contact with many residents just last month while volunteering with Special Olympics at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville. Many Ellisville residents, like McGraw, volunteer to help with various State School-related projects.
“I’ve seen the van that takes State School residents to various activities. I see them out occasionally and they’re doing what people do. I’ve never heard anybody say anything negative about them,” McGraw said.
The State School is the second-largest employer in Jones County. The school serves 535 clients on campus and 220 clients in community-based living programs.
Without the State School, “there would be a tremendous hole in the economy,” State School director Clyde Woodruff said. “It would be like pulling a major industry out of the community.”
In addition to being a source of income for many employees in Jones and surrounding counties, State School impacts the economy through purchasing of food, clothing, personal items, gasoline, medical care and entertainment.
“A substantial portion of money is spent in the community just for operating expenses. For instance, gasoline — we buy all our gasoline locally,” Woodruff said.
Although the school takes bids on food for residents of the campus, those living in individual group homes buy their food locally.
“You’re talking about an impact of 20 folks (at each group home) buying groceries weekly,” Woodruff said.
Recreational activities are another area affected by State School. Residents enjoy bowling, eating out and going to movies.
“Some of our older men and women love to go out to eat catfish. They’ve scheduled once a month to go out to eat catfish. It’s kind of like a tradition. They’re just going out and spending money like anybody else would,” Woodruff said.
Many of the residents at State School are involved in work programs and are able to earn money by doing assembly type work in the school’s sheltered workshops.
“Many of our clients earn money and they spend that money locally. Many of them have savings in the local banks,” Woodruff said.
State School has done contract work for companies including Howard Industries, Sunbeam and others.
“One of the biggest (work ventures) is selling golf tees. We purchase golf tees wholesale, package them and sell them to golf courses all over the United States. Of course the clients get paid for that work,” Woodruff said. “Work gives you self esteem. It makes you feel like you’re somebody. People need to understand our clients are somebody.”
The work projects are a good fit for handicapped residents, who can take on projects which some workers are unwilling to do.
“Our folks are good at tedious type assembly work — things where you have to sort. Many folks don’t like to do that work. It’s challenging to many of our clients,” Woodruff said.
State School residents have also done salvage type work, sorting such things as discarded nuts and bolts or sorting and packaging holiday cards.
“Our clients made money and we dealt with some items that under other conditions might have been thrown away,” Woodruff said. “Our clients can do that and be paid a reasonable and fair salary for the work they do.”
Woodruff looks forward to the location of a new technology park adjacent to State School. The park is to be anchored by the Howard Computers assembly plant.
“I think it’s going to open up some doors so our clients can move into some high tech areas,” he said.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Melinda R. Gholson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1016.