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An original client, Robert Goss, holds a photo last week that shows him with the original group of the Pickens County Training Center 50 years ago. The rest shown are clients (l-r) Blondine Bannister, Janice Cantrell, Harvey Wofford, Joe Stell, Jim Boyd and Goss. All besides Goss are deceased. See slideshow below.

Burnt Mountain Center celebrates 50 years

Open House June 2 will mark occasion

             The happiest group in Pickens County will celebrate 50 years of sharing joys and struggles when the Burnt Mountain Center hosts an open house on Friday, June 2.

            The event is from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at their building located at 515 Pioneer Road, Jasper.

            For those who have never met the “clients,” the Burnt Mountain Center (BMC) is now a learning center – teaching daily living skills, job readiness and providing structured outings to around 75 intellectually disabled adults five days a week.

            There is some irony in that before 2019 and the shift to job readiness, the clients all worked with real jobs and real paychecks before changes in federal and state guidelines forced them to shut down that component of the program.

            Begun as the Pickens County Training Center, the program started in the basement of Tate Elementary School. From Tate, the clients and staff moved into a building near First Citizens Bank in Jasper. Then in March of 1973 the property on Pioneer Road was  acquired and their original building constructed using donations from the families of those served, community members, plus support from nearby Pickens Technical School and  “a benevolent contractor.” The building and workshop spaces have been their home since then, and it was then they became known as the Burnt Mountain Center.

            At that point the program considered themselves a “work activity center” where staff members hunted down job opportunities that the clients could handle and then either brought materials in-house or supervised clients at job locations.

            Leading the charge at the Burnt Mountain Center today is Executive Director Debbie Rooker, who began as a bus driver there 42 years ago.

            “This [anniversary] is a family celebration,” she said. “It’s amazing going back through the pictures and seeing some of the things that we have done. So many jobs….” She seems to also recall most of the 300-350 clients from over the years.

            Among the work that the clients performed with staff oversight:

            • Maintenance/cleaning at the old H.D. Lee plant;

            •They had a woodshop and sanded/assembled furniture, cut parts for other furniture packages and made patio furniture and swings. They even learned and did some chair bottom caning.

            •They broke down big bags of charcoal into small bags for aquarium filters, which left everyone involved covered in black dust everyday;

            •They matched nuts and bolts from bulk bags  and put them into smaller packages;

            • They assembled thousands of Pickens Progress editions for almost 40 years.

            •They worked at QSR (with the automotive products) for 25 years, and QSR continues to employ five clients.

            Rooker describes the support the group of growing clients always provided each other and how they rallied around the achievements of the people there.

            “We had one person with some [physical limitations with her hands] and we worked with her to put the nuts on the bolts and worked with her, then one day she was able to do it and we all celebrated and the look on her face and then she got a real paycheck we all celebrated again. That hooked me for life.”

            Rooker said while the jobs, such as inserting pre-print ads like those in the center of this newspaper, may seem monotonous, to the clients it was their work and they took pride in it. “They lived for it. And for getting a true paycheck. They never said they worked at the Burnt Mountain Center, they said they worked at the Pickens Progress or whatever job site they were going to.”

            Even during the work years, there was plenty of social activity including Braves games, a yearly Luau, a yearly prom, fishing days and trips to all sorts of zoos and parks which bonded the clients into one big family with their real parents/families joining in at the socials.

            Currently their 75-80 clients range from 21 years old to 76 years old. Rooker invites the community to come out and celebrate the half century mark, met the clients and see what they offer  this Friday.

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