Creative Enterprises Forsyth Director Lisa Bennett stood outside the group’s building recently on Pilgrim Mill Road watching clients take a couple of laps on their .2-mile walking trail.
As they walk by, Bennett gave some words of encouragement, along with some prodding for those not doing what she felt they were capable of.
“They’re smart,” Bennett said. “They learn the expectations here are different than home, but I’m trying to make their life at home easier for the parents, too.”
Bennett, who taught special education at the middle school level in Forsyth County, has served in her role as director since the opening of the facility in 2016, an expansion of a longtime program in Lawrenceville. She agreed to let Forsyth County News shadow her on the job.
Creative Enterprises Forsyth, a program for adults with special needs who have aged out of the school system, gives clients goals that Bennett and others feel like they can reach along with other outings.
“The clients really get to choose what they want to do,” Bennett said. “We have choice sheets that they’ve already pre-done for the month, so we try to put them in the group of what they’ve chosen.”
No “typical day”
While Bennett said there was no “typical day,” there are things that need to get done each day. Once clients arrive, there is a morning discussion and a walk around the trail.
“We try to walk the walking trail every morning because it’s so hot in the afternoons we can’t get out there,” Bennett said.
Bennett said the clients also break into classes, ranging from money to sports to art to manners to cooking. On the day FCN came by, one group of clients was discussing recycling and other ways to help the planet.
“If we have a cooking class, the group will go out in the morning and buy their groceries,” Bennett said. “Then they will come back and do their cooking class.”
The point of the classes is to help clients learn new skills and become more self-sufficient. Some also learn job skills.
Outings are also a big education tool, and clients can frequently be seen in the community. For July, clients could choose between bowling, going to the park, going to an arcade, swimming or eating at McDonald’s or KFC.
In addition to learning new skills, Bennett said the program also has a social component that aimed to get some clients out of their shells.
Bennett said it’s up to the clients to choose what they want to do.
“It’s all about choice and making sure that they understand that they’re adults now and that they have a say in what goes on,” she said, “But, you still have to work with the group.”
While some classes and outings are divided based on the capability of clients, there are also large group activities.
“We may do a big art project or we may do a skit for the ones who can read and the others are background people,” Bennett said. “Sometimes we’ll divide back into classrooms and do different separate things because we have a lot of different levels here of functioning: we have some nonverbal clients here, some very verbal clients who are higher functioning.”
Bennett said the group is also planning to start a computer lab to help clients with research and even finding jobs.
“I want them to be able to do that on the computer to look for jobs, to find what times the library opens, to schedule their own Dial-a-Ride rides,” she said.
Creative Enterprises Forsyth opened with six clients just under two years ago and has grown to 42, with about 30 coming each day. With that kind of growth, Bennett’s job sometimes means more keeping the program running and less working with clients.
“The days that I don’t get to go in there and spend time with them, I don’t like,” she said. “I like to know what’s going on.”
Dealing with parents of both current and prospective clients and other agencies is one of those roles.
“Sometimes I spend a lot of time with parents just talking about their problems and issues they’re having with their client and help them get additional help if they need it,” she said. “I work closely with the support coordinators, who are the ones who work for agencies that oversee us in trying to get everyone all the services they can get.”
Bennett said she is texting with parents “almost every night about one thing or another.”
“I think that they trust me enough to do what’s right for their child,” she said.
Dealing with parents can mean having to deliver bad news to those wanting to come to Creative.
“Parents, they’re not sure who we are and what we do, so I have to kind of clear that up sometimes,” she said. “They’re looking for more than we can give sometimes.”
Bennett is also in charge of the local location’s finances, which need to be approved by the main location in Lawrenceville.
That includes fundraising. For example, the group is currently getting money together for a new bus.
She said the community has been quick to give for fundraisers and other donations and she has been asking less for personal donations now than when the group was brand new.
“I feel like if people want to give, they know we’re here now,” Bennett said.
While dealing with agencies, fundraising and budgets may not always be the most exciting part of the job, Bennett knows that they are necessary to help the clients reach their goals.
“You’re an adult, and you have choices,” Bennett said of those goals. “And you need to take on some responsibility. I know you can’t take on 100 percent of it, but the things you can, you can.”