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Pioneer Center to close in-house workshop in McHenry, shift to more community-based options

McHENRY – An in-house workshop designed to give people with intellectual and developmental disabilities a place to work will close at the end of the year, a McHenry nonprofit announced this week.

Visits to the Pioneer Center for Human Services facility on West Dayton Road won't change much for most of its clients, said Jackie Wells, the organization's CEO and president. The only difference is they'll no longer be able to head over to the part of the building that housed Pioneer Industries.

Called a sheltered workshop, Pioneer Industries was where more than 150 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities currently spend some amount of time fulfilling contracts the nonprofit had with businesses, typically manufacturing and packaging work, Wells said.

The amount of work available has declined over the past decade, especially the past four years, as companies brought more of this work in-house or mechanized it, Wells said.

A shift also was occurring in the human services field as studies showed that sheltered workshops were not transitioning clients into community-based work and living, now the goal of most providers and government agencies.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also released a rule change set to take effect in 2019 that pushes states to provide services that ensure people with disabilities "are living, working and spending their time in community-based settings – as opposed to sheltered workshops and settings that isolate," according to a news release released by the Pioneer Center.

To meet this goal, the Pioneer Center has doubled the number of community-based outing opportunities, made changes to its vocational program to include classroom and community time, set up time with five McHenry nonprofits where clients can volunteer and rebuilt its computer lab as a training center.

The nonprofit also developed new daily programming, including yoga, arts and cooking classes, and added slots for the daily programming its already offering. It also plans on adding to its offerings life skills training with a simulated apartment, cooking classes, community access training and general safety training as well as a new, larger fitness area with exercise, yoga and cardio classes.

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