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Featured on: The Cary News

Independence and dignity through work

The Cary News on Sunday, March 27, 2011

By Anne Woodman (correspondent)

Sun spills into Mary Madenspacher’s office where plants of every description fill the desk, tables, and floor. Colorful murals and cubbies with employee’s names and photos line the hallways.

Board members drop off envelopes and packages, and employees poker their heads in the door with questions. Each day at Life Experiences in Cary is different, and executive director Madenspacher welcomes the challenges.

Launched 33 years ago, Life Experiences is a nonprofit offering work to adults with disabilities. Since moving into its Towerview Court facility nine years ago, employees have taken on bakery, janitorial, laundry, vending and sub-contracting duties. The current facility’s capacity is 45 employees, and Madenspacher oversees 44 now.

Q. What types of disabilities do your employees have?

A. They have developmental disabilities, including autism, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy and mental retardation. They can dress themselves and take care of their basic needs. Many have a developmental disability couples with emotional challenges. About a third are nonverbal.

Our employees are doing real work, not busy work. Someone has to wash towels and sort silverware. Our employees get paid for what they accomplish.

Q. How do you convince local businesses to contract with Life Experiences?

A. One of our goals is to maintain a presence in the community. We have tried to keep someone on our board from SAS (the software company).

When they were looking to expand their laundry services over eight years ago, they asked us to take it on. We made it part of our plan when we moved into this new facility.

Of course, I always wish we had a few more standing contracts. Many times, we have individuals contact us or special events come up, but we would love to have more steady work, too.

Q. What are your goals for the next five years?

A. My goal is to keep enough money coming in to assure our financial stability.

Cash flow is a constant struggle. Every single donation, no matter how small, makes a huge difference. My goal is to get more business, more work, more bakery orders.

We are almost at capacity as far as employees, so my next goal would be to have a waiting list long enough to be able to use the 5,000 square feet of space next door for an extra 20 to 25 employees.  We have 10,000 square feet now and lease 5,000 to a church right now, but I’d love to have work to be able to use that space.

Q. It sounds like you get a lot of help from the community. What are some creative was people can help out?

A. We have one community business owner who, if he hears we’re low on copy paper, more will show up.  One of our family member’s dads comes to fix our sink or do odd jobs. One time recently, he came in and waxed our floors because he saw they needed it.

We have lots of angels: people who come and move furniture, cut the grass, even change the light bulbs. Recently, we also got a grant from BB&T to redo our enrichment room. It paid to redo the floors, paint the walls, put in shelving, buy two chairs, a rug and craft supplies.