After years of operating a thrift store that benefits and employs adults with disabilities, the PIER Foundation in Cumming has expanded with the opening of the PIER Center for Life Enrichment, a day program for disabled individuals.
Adults with disabilities are now not only able to be employed by the PIER Thrift Store, but they are also able to practice independence with activities and outings that focus on educational benefits and life skills practice. Students decide if they want to pay for anywhere from one to five days per week of activities.
“We recognized about a year ago that our employees needed a little more of a daily schedule and that they would rather have a school-like schedule,” PIER Co-Founder Cindy Matteson said. “We looked into expanding our organization to fit this need and some of the people in the county, like the regional office of the Department of Developmental Disabilities, asked us if we would start a day program for our county.”
The PIER Foundation was created by Hutch and Cindy Matteson in 2011 when they realized the need for a local place of employment for disabled adults due to the approaching adulthood of their son Joshua Matteson, who was born with Down syndrome.
This realization led the couple to conceive of the idea for the non-profit, and they soon had started a thrift store in a warehouse space in north Forsyth.
“PIER stands for providing inspiration, employment and resources,” Matteson said. “We tried to encapsulate everything we want to do for adults with disabilities in this name. We made our mission statement ‘opening doors of opportunity for adults with disabilities every day.’ We started trying to find new and creative ways to constantly do that.”
Employees of the thrift store package, sort, clean and work the cash register at the business. They also receive paychecks and learn how to budget funds.
With the day program, housed in classrooms above the thrift store, students begin the day with games, discuss current events, the weather and the calendar, exercise, cook and participate in biblical devotions, life skills learning and work training.
The day ends with community outings to places such as the YMCA, The Oaks Senior Living at Post Road, the library and local restaurants, where students pay for their own meals as part of their independence and finance training.
“Each student has an ISP — individual service plan — and this tells us what skills their families would like them to work on,” Matteson said.
“So each of them has their own skill goals and money goals, too. Finances are going to be an ongoing skill set for them and a focus of the day program since money management is a big part of independence.”
As a result of a recent grant from the Orkin Foundation in Milton, the center was able to purchase a bus to transport its students to different community activities and to their homes at the end of the day.
The new bus is a step towards an even larger day program with a greater number of students, Matteson said.
The center is currently offering online applications for new students, and the program founders said they want as many local adults with disabilities as possible to participate in the program.
“Many disabled adults in our county are being bussed to Dahlonega for a program,” Matteson said. “We want the adults to be able to come somewhere local and work each day but also have fun activities and continue the things they learned in school, gain safety skills and have community access.”
Both the center and the thrift store depend on volunteers and donations to run at its full capacity. Individuals or groups are encouraged to volunteer, and monetary donations or items for the thrift store are accepted..
To learn more about the Pier Center for Life Enrichment, visit thepiercenter.org or the PIER Thrift Store at 5185 Browns Bridge Rd. in Cumming.