Bottle and can exchange facility gives opportunity to intellectually or physically disabled
By David Yarger
On Friday morning, Empties for Empower and Empower's Day Habilitation Without Walls programs formally cut the ribbon to their new facilities in Meadowbrook Plaza, 3571 Niagara Falls Blvd.
Empties for Empower is a bottle and can redemption center, which provides paid jobs for intellectually or physically disabled people and gives them job training to take onto further endeavors. Employees sort through returned bottles and cans, count them up and also organize them by brand, size and type to eventually be recycled. The bottles and cans come in from citizens whom are given their full refund at the site, with Empower earning 3.5 cents for each return.
Empower CEO Jeff Paterson said, "Some people decide to donate it (the refund) back, which is always nice, but certainly not expected."
He added it's like going to any other redemption center except, "our customers are providing the opportunity for people with disabilities to get a paycheck and get some job training experience."
The Day Habilitation Without Walls program in the suite neighboring the redemption center is a home base for volunteers who go out and spend most of the day in the community doing recreational and various activities that make the volunteers feel right in with the community.
The workers at the redemption center also have a chance to graduate the facility and move on to other jobs, Paterson said.
"Some people have gone on to work in restaurants or stores. ... So when we feel and see that they're ready, and they feel that they're ready, we help place them into jobs in the community when they're prepared for them."
Paterson said giving back to the community the way Empower does at the Wheatfield facility is a great feeling and he loves seeing the growth in the participants.
"We see people from the community have a chance to interact with people with disabilities. They maybe, in some cases, have never met someone with a disability, so it's really gratifying to see people with disabilities coming out of their shadows and feeling that they're part of the community and they have a chance to have conversations with people and get to know them.
"I've seen people who come into our redemption center ... at the start and they're very quiet. In some cases I could say I didn't even know what their voice sounded like, because I never heard them talk. After they worked here for a few months, they get so much self-confidence, because they're greeting customers and they're talking to people and coming out of their shell. Now when I walk in, they walk up to me and shake my hand, say hello and greet me by name.
"Seeing that development in people has been terrific. It's giving them the self-confidence to hopefully go on and achieve their dreams and do the things they want to do," Paterson said.
The redemption center is Empower's second in Niagara County, as the other location is in the Town of Niagara.
For the event, local leaders such as Town of Wheatfield Supervisor Don MacSwan and Assemblyman Angelo Morinello were in attendance to advocate their support for the facility.
For more information on the facility, call 297-0798 or visit the Empower website at www.empower-wny.org.