When the late Donna "Grandma Crook took the temporary director's job at the Valley Sheltered Workshop years ago, she anticipated staying a few months.
Those months extended into years because of her gentle way with the trainees. She was always ready with a smile and enjoyed being on the receiving end of the many hugs the trainees gave her. They loved her, and she loved them just as much.
When she became ill, it was very difficult for everyone at the workshop.
"Everyone loved her, said Sue Lusted, co-supervisor at the workshop along with Barb Berrios. "When I first started here, there were many tears because they still missed 'Grandma.' I was a little worried that we wouldn't be able to follow in her footsteps.
Lusted's beaming smile and sparkling eyes are signs of her gentle spirit, a spirit everyone at the workshop values and appreciates.
"They were so accepting, said Lusted. "This job has been very rewarding.
The Valley Sheltered Workshop is a community-based work area for the developmentally challenged. It was started in the 1960s by the late Rev. Gilbert Johnstone, who realized there was a need for a workplace that would create job opportunities for those with special needs.
The workshop trainees perform simple assembly. They affix labels, fill sample bags, put together manuals, build boxes.
"I make boxes faster than anyone, said Chris Porch, who has spent most of her adult life at the workshop. "I've been here a long, long time.
The workshop is dependent on work from local businesses. The more work there is, the more hours the trainees can spend at the workshop.
"We have been very fortunate to have area businesses, like Burgess Norton, that have supported us through the years, Lusted said.
For some of these jobs, the cost to the company is less than what they would pay a printer to do the same task.
"It might take a day longer, but look at what it does for everyone here, she said.
Porch joined in the conversation and started naming some of the companies, such as Turf, Flinn, Dr. Data, the Kane County Cougars, CIMA, names that she could remember who brought jobs to the workshop.
"We packed science kits for Flinn Scientific, Lusted said. "That's one of our Batavia businesses.
The workshop can do packaging and assembly, collating, hand packaging, inspection, sorting, mail stuffing and labeling. The group gets work from companies throughout the Western suburban area, but, like any business, sometimes there are slow days.
"That is so hard when we have to close down for a day because we don't have the work, Lusted said.
On the other hand, sometimes the work shop is so busy that the trainees are working on four different jobs at once.
"When we get busy we either ask others to come and help or extend our hours, she said.
One of the helpers now is Meggan Hagemann, a student intern from Batavia High School. Others who will be joining the workshop to help this year are members of the Batavia High School basketball team.
"Coach Roberts volunteered their help and we're really excited about that, Lusted said.
The trainees are very conscientious about their work. The get paid per piece on work completed.
"I remember one time when we got really busy and one of our trainees, Joe, offered to take work home to get it done, Lusted said.
Joe Thompson is 62 years old and has spent 44 years at the Valley Sheltered Workshop. He is easy to identify: he always wears a big smile and a big hat.
The Valley Sheltered Workshop has a limited enrollment. There will be openings for four new trainees coming up with people retiring.
How does the Valley Sheltered Workshop differ from similar organizations? I think it is because of the family atmosphere that is evident at the workshop. The enrollment is limited to 14, and that makes the trainees members of a close-knit group. They are friends as well as co-workers.
Don't take my word for it. See for yourself.
The workshop is open from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Stop in to get a quote on a job.
If you have a special-needs student who will be graduating from high school and is physically able, why not drop by and meet the trainees? The workshop is at 325 Main St., Batavia.
For details, call (630) 879-2359.