Winchester Inn on target as a training program

December 31, 1990|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,Carroll County Bureau of The Sun

WESTMINSTER -- Edith Zink's life tells the story: 60 years old and developmentally disabled, she found herself unskilled and alone when her mother died. Today, she's completing a training program at the Winchester Country Inn and eager to begin work at a hotel or restaurant.

She's one of many successful sojourners at Westminster's oldest house, built in the mid-1700s and renovated as a bed-and-breakfast with a difference. It is the centerpiece of training program for the developmentally disabled and others adrift in society that has won state and national accolades for its founder, TARGET Inc.

"I love it," Ms. Zink said, with a smile as warm as the sunshine on a four-poster bed she was struggling to make under the guidance of Estella Williams, TARGET's program coordinator and executive innkeeper.

When the job was done, Ms. Zink said, "I made a lot of mistakes, but I'm proud of myself. They want me to be a housekeeper, but I don't know. . . . Stella says I'm excellent, yes, indeedy."

She worked as a waitress as a young girl but had no other work experience. But soon she'll complete the 360-hour training program at the inn and begin looking for a job doing the work she loves best: "Dishwashing."

"My glasses sparkle," Ms. Zink said with pride. "I'd like to work five days a week, if I could. I live by myself since my mother died."

During the 360-day training program, six clients at a time learn to do jobs they can find in the community, such as housekeeping, janitorial skills, lawn maintenance and food service, said Joyce E. Dell, employment and marketing coordinator.

After graduation, they take their resumes and go job-hunting, with a coach who monitors their progress for several months. Once placed, clients tend to stay in their jobs, to perform well and to enjoy working.

Since September 1986, Ms. Dell said, 67 people have completed the program and found jobs. They work at local motels, restaurants, fast-food outlets, a clothier, a car wash, an electronics firm, a landscaper, Western Maryland College, an egg dealership and a turkey farm.

The nearby Westminster Inn, a restaurant and pub that also offers bed and breakfast, has been a good employer.

"Each story is different," said Matthew S. Jackson, TARGET's director of vocational services. "The whole key is, you've got to take them as individuals."

The Winchester Country Inn was the inspiration of Donald R. Rabush, a Western Maryland College professor who founded and serves as executive director of TARGET, whose acronym is constructed from the group's work -- Training And Research, Group homes, Education with The developmentally disabled.

As Dr. Rabush tells it, sometime in 1984 he was driving by the run-down farmhouse at Center and South Bishop streets at a time when he was trying to find a worthy vocational-training project for TARGET, and "the idea popped out of my head full blown: a bed-and-breakfast inn to be staffed by the disabled."

Carroll County, which had owned the 3 1/2 -acre property for about 10 years, gave the group a $1-per-year lease. Major corporations contributed thousands of dollars, a jobs program provided a grant and volunteers went work to renovate the building.

The local historical society and others lent period antiques -- quilts, butter churns, chests, chamber pots and spinning wheels. A cabinetmaker and a curtain-sewer, along with garden clubs and contractors, donated labor and materials to make the inn look right for its grand opening in September 1986.

"What's made this really work is everybody has put part of themselves into it," Dr. Rabush said. "If you had a historical architect do all this work, nobody could afford it."

Dr. Rabush came by the inn last week -- three days after heart surgery -- to admire the cedar Christmas tree, strung with popcorn garlands and lighted by electric candles, in a small glass-enclosed porch.

Despite obvious fatigue, he glowed as he talked about TARGET, which began as a residential program in 1983 and now owns seven ranch-style houses -- with two more under way -- where 20 developmentally disabled clients live and work independently. Graduate students in Western Maryland's master of science program in special education serve as live-in staff members at these homes.

TARGET also has a recreation program at Deep Creek Lake.

Vocational training is the third piece of the organization's program -- and the bed-and-breakfast operation is its centerpiece. Near the inn, a former hog pen has been modernized into TARGET offices.

This month, TARGET was one of three finalists in the 1990 Search for Excellence of the J. M. Foundation of New York -- which Dr. Rabush calls "the Academy Awards of rehabilitation of disabled people" -- in the category of Facility-based Employability Development, for its training program at the inn.

"We've put 60-some people through," he said, "which means they're taxpayers now. Our guys may be slow on the uptake, but they're so much more reliable than most on the lower end" of the job-skills ladder.

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