This fall, Georgia-based nonprofit Creative Enterprises will expand into Dawson County to help local residents with disabilities learn independent living skills and interact with the community.
Creative Enterprises has been in operation in Gwinnett County since 1976 but had never expanded much until officials decided to set up a second location in Forsyth County four years ago. According to Creative Enterprises CEO Leigh McIntosh, the Forsyth County location grew quickly in those years.
“We expanded into Forsyth and went from six clients to 80 in four years,” McIntosh said. “And six of those clients were coming in from Dawson County.”
Then one day more than a year ago, McIntosh was at a baby shower and happened to start a conversation with former Dawson County Commissioner Julie Nix, who asked how Creative Enterprises’ Forsyth location was doing. After hearing about the growth of the Forsyth branch, Nix encouraged McIntosh to consider bringing a new location to Dawson County.
“So I went with Lisa Bennett who’s the director of the Cumming Creative Enterprises to a commissioner’s meeting to talk to them about our services,” McIntosh said. “They were very interested and said these were services needed in Dawson County.”
But even with the commissioners’ encouragement, McIntosh and her team ran into one big obstacle: they had no building to meet in. Until one day, Program Coordinator Abby McCormick happened to mention the problem to Tony Holtzclaw, pastor of Harmony Baptist Church.
“I kept talking about how I really wanted to get Creative Enterprises into Dawson County and we were looking for a building, and then one night at dinner I just started talking about how we’re in an old church building right now in Forsyth County,” McCormick said. “And Tony said ‘wait a second we have our old fellowship hall and the only time we use it is on Sunday mornings for Sunday school.’”
Holtzclaw met with the church’s head deacon Kip Brady, who helped McIntosh and McCormick present the idea to the other deacons at the church.
“We presented it to the deacons and they mulled that over for weeks, talked to their congregation about it and then the congregation voted that they wanted to get behind this and let us use that building,” McIntosh said.
In addition to letting Creative Enterprises use the fellowship hall, the church is now working to pay for renovations to make the building more accessible to those in wheelchairs.
According to McCormick, Creative Enterprises provides adults with disabilities a place to learn how to live independently and form relationships in the community.
“We serve adults once they age out of the school system,” McCormick said. “Our program focuses on independent living skills, social skills, and helping our individuals live a life that is both fun and meaningful. We also work with vocational rehabilitation to place individuals in jobs.”
McCormick said that those in the program range in age from just out of high school to older adults, who just need a little extra help learning life skills to live independently. Clients in the program attend six-hour days, Monday through Friday, which McIntosh said is a help to the caretakers and family too.
“We’re serving people with severe disabilities; generally these folks have to have a caretaker with them during the day and can’t be left alone so it takes some pressure off of the caretaker too,” McIntosh said. "It’s hard on families because if you’ve got family members who don’t ever get to independence it’s really hard on the caretakers, so if there’s a way that we can get them in the programs and put them in a safe place where they’re learning and growing it frees up some time for the caretaker and it’s just better and healthier for the entire family.”
The program is set up to mirror college, giving each client the choice to pick their own individualized set of classes, McIntosh said.
“We give them choices of classes they’re interested in, so each person who comes here has an individual service plan that runs for a year,” McIntosh said. “We try to find out what they’re interested in, what they wanna do and what they wanna focus on; so say if someone is artistic we have an art program and help them market and sell their art to earn a little income from that.”
Giving the clients a choice on which classes to pursue is a way to help them follow their own personal passions, McIntosh said.
“Everyone has different things that they’re passionate about, so we’re trying to provide a variety of options,” McIntosh said. “So that way everybody feels like we’re meeting some of what they’re passionate about.”
In the end, McIntosh said that it’s really all about helping those who may have a few extra challenges learn how to find success in the community, while also helping other people in the community interact with and learn about clients in the program.
“It helps these people who for many many years were ostracized and looked down upon,” McIntosh said. “They’re wonderful people, and I think that people haven’t been exposed to them sometimes or are fearful of what they don’t know, but if they take the time to get to know them they’re gonna meet really wonderful people that will enrich their lives.”
Their goal is to open the Dawson County Creative Enterprises location by September. During the building process and after the new location is open, she said that any and all help from the community would be much appreciated.
“This is not something that one person can do very easily; it takes a bunch of people,” McIntosh said. "The Dawson area still has that small-town feel where people know each other and they’re trying to do something that’s truly to help other people; it’s not about their personal gain or anything except for helping folks who really need the help.”
McIntosh said that the community’s help so far has been a huge blessing and that she and her team look forward to getting to know the community better as they expand their mission into Dawson County.
“I can’t even tell you how surprised and pleased and honored I am all at the same time,” McIntosh said. “I’m really looking forward to it — we’re very excited about it.”
For more information about Creative Enterprises, go to https://www.creativeenterprises.org/ or follow Creative Enterprises at https://www.facebook.com/creativeenterprises701/ for updates as the Dawson location gets closer to opening.
For information on how to volunteer or how to enroll in the program, email Abby McCormick at email@example.com or call (678) 894-8960 and ask for either Abby McCormick or Lisa Bennett.