Transitioning from “retardation” to “disabilities and special needs,” the Laurens County Disabilities and Special Needs Boards observed its 50th anniversary with a last Tuesday morning breakfast at the Magnolia Room, The Laurens County Museum.
Starting as the Laurens County Mental Retardation Commission, the agency has transitioned from working with institutionalized people to transitioning people into the local community, to live and work and have fellowship. Its Executive Director Jason Tavenner terms it
“50 years of supporting people.”
Participants at the LCDSNB breakfast were taken on a journey of 50 years fulfilling the visions of Von Sinclair, Libby Rhodes and others in making a dream come true - the dream that special needs individuals can bring their skills and talents every day into the workplace and, themselves, experience the dignity of work.
LCDSNB has 19 houses for 111 people and its day center serves 33 people. More important, the workers have moved beyond the walls of a building out into the Laurens County community.
The Laurens County Sheriff’s Office was this year’s recipient of the Von Sinclair Award for exemplary advocacy and public service. Sheriff Don Reynolds dedicated the award to his staff - “they do a whole lot with a little bit,” he said.
In addition to people already working, the agency has 25 people in career prep. There are 452 people served by case management; and, adopting a go where the need is philosophy, the agench has begun expanding to Greenville, Greenwood, and Newberry. The LCDSNB’s “Building Dreams” is the children’s services program.
Tavenner called his 215 staff members “the difference makers.” He also thanked for their support the volunteer board, chaired by Peter Littlefield.
Tavenner said the agency’s next goal is “enabling technology” to deliver even greater services. He said the LCDSNB staff strives to enrich community awareness, provide structure - “a home they are proud of” - and recruit, retain and re-invent in the workplace.
Beverly Moates and Michelle Stone took the audience through a timeline of 50 years. Moates related it started in 1973 as the Laurens County Mental Retardation Commission and in 1976 moved trailers to county donated land on Airport Road. What became Evergreen Skils was completed in 1981, and Grady Spires submitting the winning center name. In 1983, Libby Rhodes left for a job with the prisons, and Von Sinclair became the executive director - they had 12 employees and 49 clients, “we were the only game in town,” Moates said.
Sinclair was convinced that there were people living in institutions who did not belong there. In 1984-85 the agency began a children’s program, the Early Intervention Services; and in 1986 it began Community Management.
Eight people living in a neighboring home were among the first to come into the new program, and they needed transition. The day center program came about in 1988.
LCDSNB came to manage 21 properities before Sinclair retired.
By then, they were a staff of 49 providing 180 people with day services.
Autism and head and spinal cord injuries came into the agency’s perview in the 1990s, necessiating a name change. Also coming into being was the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act. The 1990s and 2000s were a time of expanding throughout the community. Tavenner assumed the executive director position in 2007, and in 2015, the agency dedicated its new day center, Cypress in Clinton.
Then, 2020, and with COVID, “the way we did business changed,” Stone said. Day services stopped for a while - and what looked like a negative turned positive as people came to the day center in smaller groups. LCDSNB saw that it could transititon people into work in the community, rather than just having a group come to a building with the challenge of keeping them engaged day after day after day.
The agency saw a future of excitement and hope, Stone said, in which it could expand “anywhere we see a need.”
In his closing remarks, Tavenner said breakfast participants could identify agency staff who were wearing gold - for the 50-year Golden Anniversary. He thanked The Museum, Steamers, Bell of a Time, and Print-a-Matic, and all the community partners, for their tangible support of the important, milestone anniversary.
More Information: Laurens County Disabilities and Special Needs Board, 364 Evergreen Skills Road, Laurens; 864-682-2314; lcdsnb.org and find them on facebook. On its page, the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office shared these comments: “We had a great time at the Laurens County Disabilities and Special Needs breakfast, celebrating 50 awesome years! Thank you for having us. We are so proud to be this year’s recipient of the Von H. Sinclair award, an award for advocacy and services. We are a proud partner of the LCDSNB and look forward to continuing this friendship for many years.”
Also, the Laurens County Chamber of Commerce offered its well-wishes: “Thank you Laurens County Disabilities and Special needs Board for the opportunity to attend your annual breakfast, celebrating your 50th anniversary! We appreciate the positive impact your dedicated team continues to make in our County & beyond. .. Congratulations, Laurens County Sheriff’s Office for winning the Von Sinclair Award for Advocacy & Service!”
The Laurens County Council adopted a resolution identifying March as Disability Awareness Month at its March 28 meeting.
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