Edison Sheltered Workshop, Inc. Edison Sheltered Workshop, Inc.
Dorothy K. Drwal Occupational Training Center
"A Community Rehabilitation Center"

328 Plainfield Avenue   •   Edison, NJ 08817   •    Phone: 732-985-8834    •   Fax: 732-985-2216

   History

The following column appeared Thursday, Feb. 5, 2004, in the Home News Tribune of East Brunswick. It was written by Elias Holtzman, one of the parents involved in the founding of the Edison Sheltered Workshop.

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Coming of Age The Edison Sheltered Workshop will be 25 years old this year. Has it been that long that we parents got together to press for a program for our disabled children? How did this all get started?

Back in 1979, a group of parents -- myself and Marcia included -- began to confront what would happen to our disabled or retarded children as they aged out of the school system. We were not satisfied with the adequacy of what was offered, or available.
Other involved parents were John and Nora Infusino, Don and Dorothy Huff, Marian and George Burris, Don and Barbara Henry and William and Jean Fishwick. Infused with enthusiasm and passion, we approached Edison Township and found a welcome ear from Mayor Anthony Yelencsics. Shortly thereafter, and with the support of Yelencsics, Councilwoman Dorothy Drwal came aboard and was elected the group’s president.

She was adept in her leadership and rallied others to the cause, who also saw the need for a sheltered workshop and a vocational rehabilitation program for handicapped adults in Edison and the surrounding communities.

In the group’s first annual report, in 1980, after its incorporation in 1979, Drwal stated: “It has become increasingly evident that the problems of the handicapped and their relationships to the rest of society are numerous and complex. We cannot resolve all of these problems for the more than 10,000 disabled in Middlesex County. However, through direct provision of services and through assuming an advocacy role, the Edison Sheltered Workshop plans to increasingly positively impact upon the lives of the handicapped and improve the quality of life for all.” The goal of the Workshop, said the report, “is vocational rehabilitation…to help clients achieve their highest potential…including competitive employment, selective employment, and sheltered or extended employment.”

The Edison Sheltered Workshop was a grass roots project unlike any other in the state. It harnessed the spirit of good will and altruism from volunteers who have served as board members and supporters. It is independent, but still has a tie to the municipality.

The Workshop occupies the former Stelton School at 328 Plainfield Avenue, now known as the Stelton Community Center, and shares space in the building with the Edison Recreation Department and several recreation programs. The Middlesex County Arts High School also has held classes in the building.

The Workshop was officially given the second name of the Dorothy K. Drwal Occupational Training Center, to honor Drwal, who had led the group from its incorporation in 1979 until her death in 1990.

One of her goals -- along with the board’s -- was to build a warehouse for storage of material used in the Workshop’s production program. The warehouse was completed in 1988 and is at the rear of the building. Veronica “Ronnie” Velez, executive director since 1999, notes that the Workshop “prides itself on its ability to truly know the strengths and needs of its program participants.”

“By providing an intimate yet work-oriented environment, our staff strives to meet both vocational and social needs of our clients and their families in a personalized and holistic manner. We wish to continue this tradition and improve our services whenever and wherever possible.”

Board president is Robert Ellmyer, an Edison police lieutenant (now captain) who also is the Township’s “Emergency Management Coordinator” and who is now serving his third year in office as president in this go-round. He served three years as president in an earlier tenure.

“The Edison Sheltered Workshop strives to provide the most modern, yet personalized services to our hard working clients,” said Ellmyer. “This could not be possible without the dedication of an all-volunteer board and a superior professional staff. The future of ESW is bright, yet filled with the challenges of a slow economy, rising costs and physical plant limitations.
“Our current and previous successes could not have been accomplished without the assistance of the mayor and municipal council … They have proven to be an invaluable asset in terms of job placement contacts, financial assistance, modernization and marketing.” The Workshop now has 71 clients, in extended employment programs, supervised janitorial services and workshop activity. One of these clients is Laura Gentile, who is 41, and youngest of three children of Massimo and Addie Gentile, of Edison. Addie Gentile, who is the Workshop’s office manager, notes that Laura has been attending the Workshop “for 20 years, on and off.” “She has worked for McDonald’s and other workshops, but she loves this place and looks forward to it.”

At the Workshop Laura does production work and is in the janitorial program. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” says Addie. “This is the best place.” Another participant in the program is Debbie Huff, now 39, whose parents live in Edison, but who herself now shares a group apartment in North Brunswick. The Huffs, Don and Dorothy, were among the initial parents who helped start up the program, and they are pleased with it. Each year they attend the annual dinner along with their daughter.

The dinner this year, as in years past, will be held at the Moose Lodge 1978 in Edison, which traditionally picks up the check. Frank Ferguson, one of the lodge officials, also served for a number of years as a Board member and officer. His daughter Nancy attends the Workshop.

Another group which has been a long-time friend to the Workshop is the Knights of Columbus, Pope Pius XII Council No. 4885, which each year dedicates a portion of the proceeds of its Tootsie Roll Drive to the Workshop.

“We’ve seen the program grow from a small house owned by the town near the Edison Tower,” said Don Huff, referring to the location at 89 Tower Road which was first used as its headquarters back when the group was getting started. The Workshop’s second home was in a portion of Washington School, before it succeeded in getting located at Stelton. “Oh yes,” said Huff, “Debbie really likes it at the Workshop. All her friends are there. She feels as though they need her there. She’s got to go in and do her job…” That’s the way most of the clients feel, including Dean Clause, 47, son of Ken and Barbara Clause, now of Monroe, but formerly of Metuchen. Dean has three brothers, one of whom is his twin, Duane, a fireman in Edison. Dean was born without hearing and is a high functioning disabled person. “He wakes up early and gets ready to board the bus to take him to work,” said Clause. Dean usually comes down with his dad to the annual Metuchen Country Fair in October, to assist at the Workshop’s booth on Main Street. Over the years the workshop has had its booth -- a game called “Pick the Colored Ball.” The idea of the game is for the participant to pick a colored golf ball out of a covered box, Nine balls are white and one is colored -- orange. Those who pick the colored ball are entitled to any prize on the stand -- and the prizes are plush toys. The game is a lot of fun and also gives the board members manning the booth a chance to pitch a spiel about the Workshop and meet friends who may be passing by. Early members of the board included Tom Viggiano, who was in charge of the Edison Township Special Ed program, and who is still on the board, although retired from his education post. Also still on the board are John Infusino and myself and John Hogan. Other early board members included Eadie DiLeo, Marian Burris, Harry J. Russell, John Malinowski, Dr. Thomas H. Paterniti and the late Congressman Bernard J. Dwyer. Paterniti, a former Mayor and State Senator, busy as he is, still attends meetings. Has the workshop been effective? I think so. But ask me anyway -- in another 25 years. How are we doing…after 25 years. It is hard to believe, but ESW is now 25 years old. Although most of us have not been around since the beginning, many of us have seen many of the changes these years have brought. Some of these changes have affected only ESW, others have impacted the entire field of vocational rehabilitation. As an agency, the Edison Workshop has grown from just a handful of clients at its inception to a client population of over 70 extended employees. Over the course of these 25 years, the workshop has served over 1,500 of our fellow citizens with disabilities. ESW has also grown in terms of client job placement. We now are vending both time-limited job coaching and supported employment services through the New Jersey Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services. We have made many changes and updates to our physical plant: the warehouse, the new client lunchroom, better lighting in the client workrooms, etc. Many of the changes ESW has seen over the years have been, without a doubt, wonderful for the workshop and our clients.

 

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