MARIETTA - Adults with disabilities provide services at the Marietta Harbor, the Courthouse Cafe and the Heart to Art Galleria downtown through WASCO Inc., but they also do work on products that end up well beyond Marietta and Washington County.
Recently, WASCO consumers worked an extra shift assembling and packaging landscaping stakes manufactured by Dimex on Ohio 7 in Reno. Those and other Dimex products are shipped around the country and into Canada.
"I love what I'm doing," said Marietta resident Betty Anne Fitzpatrick, a WASCO consumer, as she gathered and taped the stakes Tuesday. Of all the jobs she's done at WASCO, "I love this one the best, 'cause one, you get dirty. And I just love the pace."
Photo by Evan Bevins
WASCO workers use pieces of this silicomanganese slag, a byproduct from the Eramet Marietta plant, to create jewelry in conjunction with Eramet’s 60th anniversary celebration.
WASCO provides jobs to clients with a range of developmental and physical disabilities through its sheltered workshop program.
The work includes lawn care, janitorial, mail, production and assembly services, making greeting cards and jewelry and making vintage ceiling tiles.
"We have to make sure everybody gets a fair wage and that they have employment that's meaningful to them and that ... the WASCO businesses can support those wages," said Jan Powell, CEO of WASCO, which is a nonprofit organization under the auspices of the Washington County Board of Developmental Disabilities.
The pay of consumers in the sheltered workshop may be less than minimum wage, which is allowed by a certificate issued by the U.S. Department of Labor. Powell said how much an individual makes is based on their productivity, so if they can do 60 percent of the work a standard employee would, they get paid at 60 percent of the rate. They are reassessed every six months with the goal being that their skills improve, along with their pay, she said.
The ultimate goal is employment in the community, Powell said, and working at places like the Harbor can help with that.
One WASCO function that's been in the spotlight lately is production of ceiling tiles.
The vacuum-formed plastic products are reproductions of antique-pressed panels, and WASCO has been selling them online as well as featuring them at home shows and conferences from Columbus to Charleston, W.Va.
A southern West Virginia resident purchased tiles after seeing them at a Charleston home show and stopped by the WASCO booth the next year to share how he'd used them in his home, Powell said. The tiles have also been shipped as far as Taylor, S.C., but WASCO business development manager Nancy Harris said online sales mean there aren't really any geographical limits.
"These can go worldwide," she said.
WASCO has been producing ceiling tiles for about 30 years. A more recent endeavor - engraving - has brought the organization more attention locally and is starting to get noticed elsewhere too.
The laser engraver was purchased in 2008 so WASCO could engrave bricks for the Veterans Walk of Honor at the Armory on Front Street in Marietta. Since then, WASCO has also provided engraving services for brick walks for New Matamoras' Park Central and the Rotary Club of Malta-McConnelsville.
A Columbus church ordered bricks for a "memory cross" after spotting the products at a home show in Ohio's capital city.
One of WASCO's goals for the coming year is to increase brick sales.
"That means promoting them outside this area," Powell said.
Another product for which WASCO is well-known is the jewelry its consumers make by melting pieces of colorful glass together.
"They choose the colors and the patterns," Harris said. "They have total creative freedom. It's all about personal expression."
When WASCO representatives attend conferences on speech and hearing therapy and other subjects in places like Columbus, Charleston and Huntington, W.Va., they bring the jewelry along.
"Actually, we're requested to attend because people know our product," Harris said.
WASCO's jewelry also resulted in a new project commissioned by the Eramet Marietta plant on Ohio 7.
"We've been working with them to create special jewelry out of some of our byproducts, silicomanganese slag," said Eramet spokeswoman Joy Frank-Collins. "The slag product, when it's not in your driveway, can be polished and it can be very beautiful."
WASCO plans to make pendants and cuff links with the green material, which Frank-Collins said will be offered to employees and used as gifts related to Eramet's 60th anniversary this year.
And that means some WASCO products could be headed across the Atlantic, as pieces will likely go to people from the company's headquarters in Paris.