While many businesses are closing in preparation for the July 4 celebration, Salem Industries on Salem Church Road embraces the spirit of freedom every day.
Though staff was on hand for an annual Independence Day celebration, held in the company’s offices on July 3, productivity was put on hold in an effort to enjoy the warm smiles and the caring hearts of the community.
Salem Industries is a partner with Gaston Skills, an organization that serves people with developmental disabilities in Gaston County, Lincoln County and the eastern portion of Cleveland County. At Salem Industries, consumers — as the staff prefers to call the people who use their services — learn valuable social and vocational skills. Through bids with local businesses, Salem provides manufacturing work from companies like Timken, Bosch and Carolina Roller.
In spite of the challenges that face them, Salem industries consumers work with a smile on a daily basis, and it was because of their hard work and dedication to their own personal freedoms that community groups, including the United Way, come together each year and help fund the event.
Executive director for the United Way in Lincoln County Kathy Vinzant was on hand, passing out watermelon and talking with tables full of people.
“For me working, this day brings a whole new meaning to Independence,” Vinzant said. “I am blessed to be in their presence.”
According to Cathy Sherbert-Jenkins, program manager, the heat kept the crew inside, but they more than made up for it by engaging in indoor activities such as face painting and tie-dying patriotic colored shirts. A DJ was on hand to provide dance music and the smiling faces that filled the dining area of Salem Industries filed out onto the dance floor.
“Everyone looks forward to this. For some, this is the only event they will come to,” Sherbert-Jenkins said.
Jennifer Hoyle, operations manager for Gaston Skills, had nothing but admiration for the consumers at Salem Industries. Both she and Sherbert-Jenkins emphasized how important a role Salem Industries played in Lincoln County.
“They have a huge impact on the community because the folks that attend our services here don’t necessarily have anywhere else to go during the day,” Hoyle said. “We teach job training, pre-vocational skills, social skills, daily living skills, skills that are important to a person functioning in the community on a daily basis.”
“We integrate them into the community,” said Sherbert-Jenkins. “We use the resources in the community.“
Community outings, according to Hoyle, are often times the only opportunity that these individuals get to be out and socializing among other people.
Though their services are crucial to the county, Gaston Skills and Salem Industries have experienced funding cuts. Increases in transportation costs and budgeting constraints have forced the organization to make hard decisions about when they are open and how long. Partnerships like those with the United Way, the Cooperative Extension, Home Place Restaurant and Highway 16 Produce in Denver, help celebrations like their Independence Day happen. The companies that Salem Industries partner with provide monetary funds to pay for the work and sponsor special events such as holiday meals, but they do not assist with the services that Salem provides. All financial needs are met through grants, government funding and individual donations.
While budgets for the program may be tight, the message of independence rang through the celebration of the day, especially for the volunteers and the community that comes together for the participants at Salem Industries.
“A lot of people that are in the services we have now were formerly in institutions and they did not live in the community,” Hoyle said. “They were kept behind closed doors and here, they’re free. They get to have normal lives, like you and I get to have, and it’s very important to them to be able to make their own choices as to where they live. I think it’s symbolic for them, their independence and they love this party.”
“The skills we teach them teaches them to be independent,” said Sherbert-Jenkins.
For more information on Salem Industries and Gaston Skills, including how to donate or volunteer, visit www.gastonskills.org.