For the past three years or so, motor vehicles bearing the letters ECI have been spotted on the roadways of Seneca County. The letters stand for Encouraging and Celebrating Independence Inc., and they represent an agency that has been providing services for developmentally disabled adults for 35 years.
Laura Withrow, ECI president, and Kellie Sears, business development and marketing director, gave an overview of their services, events and projects.
"Our services are through the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, and that's where we're certified and licensed for all the services we provide. We started out in 1977 providing residential services, which is referred to as 'homemaker personal care' in group home settings," Withrow said. "We expanded over the years providing new programs and services for individuals based on the changing needs of the people we are serving, as well as the ability within the regulations."
ECI provides 24-hour care in more than 30 residential locations in Ohio.
Adult individuals who live with a parent or independently can take advantage of ECI's day programs on a drop-in basis at 17 licensed facilities throughout the state, including an eight-bed intermediate care facility for people with mental retardation in Clyde.
In 2004, the employee-owned company moved its corporate offices to 382 Huron St., Tiffin, when the Seneca County Commission on Aging purchased Somerset Reception Center. The Tiffin office serves Seneca, Wyandot, Sandusky, Ottawa and Huron counties.
A second office in Fairfield serves Butler, Montgomery, Preble and Warren counties. The vans were added about three years ago for non-medical transportation.
"With some changes in how individuals had the opportunity to choose their services, we were able to expand and provide a new service, which is transportation for individuals to and from employment programs," Withrow said.
About 250 Ohio adults utilize ECI's services, and Withrow said about 150 are served through the Tiffin office.
In November 2010, a new day program, Inspirations, was added. A workshop area at Somerset employs about 35 individuals with developmental disabilities
"They have the opportunity to complete various job assignments and to be paid for those assignments. We do some document scanning. We also prepare the mobile meals for the Seneca County Commission on Aging, as well as preparation of the shelf-stable meals," Withrow said.
Commission on Aging Director Bryan Glover said the partnership with ECI has been good for both agencies.
As the shelf-stable meals program has grown, COA has been preparing the meals for seven other counties in the region, and for another for-profit group in the Akron area. The Inspirations participants have made the expansion possible.
"ECI has been a great organization to work with. ... It's been beneficial to us as we see more clients eligible for MRDD and 60-plus services," Glover said. "And it's neat to see the care and compassion they have for their clients and their employees."
Inspirations participants also can design and assemble Baskets by ECI. Withrow said ECI conducted market research before launching Baskets by ECI, and surveyed program participants to find out the kinds of tasks they were willing and able to contribute.
Individuals can come to Inspirations five days a week or fewer, depending on their preferences. Those who only can work for a limited time are given recreational opportunities.
The gift baskets can be ordered and customized in advance, but an inventory of birthday and get-well baskets is available for purchase when the need arises. Withrow said Christmas and Valentine's Day were busy times for the basket makers.
A selection of Easter baskets made by individuals from Inspirations was on display during an Easter Egg Hunt Saturday at Tiffin YMCA. The workers also prepared the eggs for the event.
In addition to Easter merchandise, participants have been painting clay flower pots and completing them with packaged soil and herb seeds. A Disney Mickey Mouse basket has been a popular seller for all occasions. Others include gourmet foods, tea and coffee, and pet items.
Withrow said ECI tries to purchase products for the baskets from local suppliers and manufacturers.
People can order Baskets by ECI online at www.eciinc.net or stop in at the Huron Street office to purchase a basket from the inventory during business hours.
Withrow said she has been setting up displays at festivals and craft fairs. Companies have ordered customized baskets as holiday gifts for their employees. The prices range from about $10 to more than $60, depending on the contents.
Sears and Withrow also spoke about two programs they organized for Developmental Disabilities Month in March.
More details about each are posted online at www.eciinc.net.
"ERACE the R-word" and "See My Abilities" are to continue into the coming months.
Sears said "ERACE" was developed to support a national campaign to promote respect for those with developmental disabilities.
"We wanted to bring other people into that realm, so we put our own take on it. ... that will be on our website so people can actually go to our website and pledge to end the R-word," Sears said. "It's a personal commitment not to use the R-word."
"See My Abilities" was developed to encourage the public to recognize the contributions and talents of people with developmental disabilities, rather than focusing on what they cannot do.
A crew from a Toledo TV news program came to ECI last week to film a segment that was broadcast Sunday night. The filming highlighted the work of ECI program participants Danny Schirack Jr. and Norman Caris. The latter became a deputy for a day at the Sandusky County Sheriff's Department.
Having worked for ECI for 17 years, Withrow emphasized a competent staff of more than 70 people is important to the success of ECI's programs. The company provides training for employees and recognizes them at an annual banquet. A few have been with ECI for 20 years. Many employees are hired through referrals.
People interested in employment can stop at the Tiffin office and pick up an application or call the office at (419) 443-0767.