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Consumers and employees alike learn and gain at Salem Industries

When you work at Salem Industries, you become part of a family.
The non-profit organization located on Salem Church Road has been providing work for “consumers” — men and women with developmental disabilities — as part of Lincoln County’s industrial and manufacturing community since 1972.
“We have many different types of jobs here,” said Ed Campbell, production manager. “We do a little bit of everything.”
The agency currently operates with 65 consumers throughout the year with 40 permanent and temporary employees.
It’s a long way from 1972, when Salem Industries started with seven consumers and three employees at the back of the Health Department. They moved to their location in 1991.
Salem Industries has operated as a division of Gaston Skills Inc., a community rehabilitation program, since 2000.
Consumers, who are 18 years and older, are referred to agency through school systems, Pathways or the North Carolina Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Campbell said that after referral, consumers come to see the facility to see if it is right for them.
“They are interviewing me, not me interviewing them,” he said.
If the environment is right, consumers begin work. Just like a regular job, consumers work from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. with two 15-minute breaks and hour lunch time.
Although transportation isn’t provided by Salem, consumers come to work through Lincoln County transportation, group homes and their families.
“The minute they come through this door, they are taken care of all day,” Campbell said.
The work done at Salem is contracted from 21 industries in Lincoln, Catawba and Gaston counties. Some of the vocational work provided include packaging, collating, sewing and sorting, to name but several. Work is done either done at Salem or an off-site location.
“When we get a job, I train the instructors who then train the consumers. We’ve done it so well, Bosch has come and studied us,” Campbell said. “We’ve never turned down a job.”
While consumers are not employees of Salem Industries, they do receive wages for work and learn valuable life skills.
“It’s hands-on,” said Cheryl Auton, one of Salem’s supervisors. “We find a way to get them to do it. Everybody gets together to help them learn to do their job.”
Although completing the work well and on time is important, Campbell feels one of Salem’s greatest assets is the bond created between consumers and employees.
“These people are our family, it’s a family here,” he said. “We watch over them and take care of them.”
Campbell said Salem Industries does something special for each holiday, whether it is serving Thanksgiving dinner (thanks to Bosch) or a Fourth of July lunch provided by the United Way, through which Salem Industries receives funding.
Salem Industries recently received “the Highest Participation From a Non-Profit” award from the United Way at its recent annual luncheon. Employees also raise money for Relay For Life.
“We are very proud to be a part of another non-profit,” Campbell said, referring to United Way.
Consumers also participate in Special Olympic events. Many are excited about the upcoming Spring Games to be held at Lincolnton High School April 27.
About half of the consumers compete in events, but Campbell said that all consumers go to watch and have fun.
The organization has become so successful, Campbell said, that they are looking for a larger facility. Consumers and employees currently have to split break shifts.
“We have outgrown our facility,” he said.
A larger facility would enable the organization to expand its program offerings, such as Senior Enrichment, which they have in Gaston and provides activities for seniors.
With their eyes on the future, Salem Industries hopes to continue to do good work in the present.
“I love doing this more than anything I have ever done,” said Auton.

Salem Industries, a United Way, non-profit organization is located at 1636 Salem Church Road in Lincolnton. For more information, call (704) 732-1516.

(Above Photo) Jonathan White is hard at work placing screwdriver bits into what is termed “Tic-tac” cases. (Below) In another part of Salem Industries, Sandy Jones places Blue Granite brand drill bits into packages. Chris Dean / LTN Photo

by Mary Williams

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