Lower Shore Enterprises celebrates 50 years

Leslie Leether, Production Coordinator, left, and CEO Bill Turner talk about upcoming projects at Lower Shore Enterprises, which is celebrating its 50th year of serving the community. (Todd Dudek Photo)When Jack Heath talks about his six years as CEO of Lower Shore Enterprises, there is joy in his voice.

“It’s wonderful. The clients are out there making a living. They’re independent and they’re having a ball,” Heath said, praising the facility for the developmentally disabled that, this week, is celebrated its 50th anniversary.

On Tuesday, that milestone was observed at a Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours. Friday night, an anniversary dinner will be at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center. The $100-per-person fundraiser, featuring members of the Eastern Shore Delegation as guest speakers, sold out.

There will also be a Fourth of July picnic for clients, said LSE’s Chief Executive Bill Turner.

“We are the oldest on-Shore provider for the developmentally disabled. About half of our clients work at our facility here. We provide document services. We have a mail production department that produces and mails newsletters and handles mail production for the town of Ocean City, for the Ocean City tax bills. We have custodial crews. We have a career development center here where we train and develop workforce skills for individuals for when they apply for jobs in the community,” Turner explained.

“If you look at nationwide statistics, only 17 percent of people with disabilities are actively employed in our communities. There is a real need for individuals to find employment. Many of them need to work on training and soft job skills. That’s why we’re here.  Many of them want to work and be more integrated into the community,” he said.

Staff works with those 18 to 80 years old in the lower four counties – Wicomico, Somerset, Worcester and Dorchester – eager to work. The combined payroll for the staff of 60 and 250 clients is $2.5 million annually and the annual budget is $3.5 million.

State grants come from Maryland and Delaware and one-third of the budget is generated from local businesses that hire clients. State funding is used to help them find jobs.

Turner, CEO for the past two years, introduced two clients, Tamela Taylor and Kathleen Smullen.

Taylor, of Salisbury, is a receptionist in the front office at Lower Shore Enterprises.

“I’ve been here since last year. Somebody suggested it. I like talking to people. I like to help people out,” the 32-year-old said, adding she also volunteers at Habitat for Humanity, where she answers phones.

Mardela Springs resident Kathleen Smullen works with mail production and volunteers at Stepping Stones Daycare. The 26-year-old said she cleans children’s cubbies and keeps items in order. “I like being around the children,” she said. She also works with mailings at Wicomico Partnership for Families.

Sammi Mills works on folding brochures for an event marking Lower Shore Enterprises’s anniversary. (Todd Dudek Photo)

Mike Purkey, director of the Deaf Independent Living Association, was formerly CEO of Lower Shore Enterprises.

“It is very purpose driven. We pretty much focused strictly on employment and going into the community as much as possible and doing subcontractor work,” he said.

It was easy to develop a fondness for the clients. “Oh, they’re still my guys,” he said.

“It was the best work force I’ve ever managed. They were willing to do anything you asked of them,” he said, remembering a chat he had with one man who, with a heart-warming smile, announced his job “makes my heart happy.”

Heath called working with the staff and clients “a joy.”

“I have said many times that of my entire career, my time at Lower Shore Enterprises was the most enjoyable. The staff does not get the recognition they deserve. I had no idea when I joined the organization what it takes to develop the programs and be sure the clients are all taken of properly. To do that every day it’s quite a unique ability. I don’t know how many people could do that,” Heath said.

“I remember my third retirement. I was running a company for the Dutch, a United States company for a Dutch organization. My last job was to sell the company for them. I did that, then I retired. Six months after I retired, my wife and I both decided at the same time that retirement wasn’t for me. At that time we were living in Connecticut. I made a couple phone calls. Our children were still here and I said, ‘It’s time to go home,’” he recalled.

He sent a resume and his friend Bob Cook, who was on the search committee for a new CEO for Lower Shore Enterprises, called with good news – Heath was one of the finalists for the position. By the end of the meeting with search committee members, Heath had been hired.

“They needed a business guy to run it. I needed good people to bring me up to speed as to what was going on, the clinical side of it. The staff is phenomenal. They made the job very, very easy for me. I took care of the business side but I knew every one of the clients,” he said.

“I still go back. I’m on the board, so I go back. The clients hug me and say, ‘I miss you.’ It kind of tugs at your heart.”

Clients work in the production room at Lower Shore Enterprises. (Todd Dudek Photo)

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