‘Smooth’ commitment

Published 5:41 pm Friday, October 15, 2021

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AHOSKIE – Ever since joining Easterseals UCP in 2016, Sarah Grace Britton has constantly searched for ways to improve the quality of life for local individuals who are impacted by with intellectual, behavioral, and physical disabilities.

Her effort has now led to a hefty donation from a solar farm developer that will assist the Ahoskie Easterseals UCP office in expanding its menu on their food truck, which is staff by adult clients of the program.

As part of SunEnergy1’s commitment to support local communities, they have donated $10,000 to the Easterseals UCP program in Ahoskie. The money will be used to upgrade the program’s kitchen to meet the necessary health code regulations that is needed to obtain a permit to make and sell smoothies.

In addition, the funds will be used to buy the equipment, ingredients and supplies to start the business.

Hunter Adkison prepares to serve a cup of freshly brewed coffee to a customer of the “sensABLE snacks” food truck. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

“My team is already dreaming of the type of smoothies they will make,” Britton said. “SunEnergy1’s funding of our kitchen equipment will help us launch a great program and we thank them for their generous support.”

“Anytime we go into a community to build one of our solar facilities we reach out like this to be a good neighbor,” said Cody Jannise, Field Operations Coordinator for SunEnergy1. “It does indeed take a village to help those in need. We want to be a part of that village, a good corporate partner.”

SunEnergy1 currently has three solar farms in operation in Hertford County, to include one of the state’s largest facilities located off NC 11 near Millennium.

The kitchen area of the Easterseals UCP office has been in use since the facility opened in 2016. There, adult clients learn to safely prepare food and cook, another part of their effort to enjoy independent living.

“Once the remodeling is finished, we’ll be able to use our kitchen to cut up the fruit and pre-package the smoothies that will be served on our food truck,” Britton explained. “That’s just the start of our planned expansion to items we offer on the food truck. The next one we want to add is made-to-order pizza.”

The food truck – aka “sensABLE snacks” – opened in the fall of 2019 thanks to a collaboration between Trillium Health Resources and Easterseals UCP with added assistance from Food Bank of the Albemarle. Its mission, other than providing healthy snacks to the community, is to provide jobs and job training for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The truck currently employs a staff of eight adult clients. “Adding to the menu with such items as smoothies presents an opportunity to hire more workers,” Britton said.

Those employees will gain on-the-job training, invaluable work experiences and in some cases enough work

hours to help live independently. In addition to making smoothies, team members will learn other transferable skills such as food preparation and kitchen clean up.

Smoothies offer a wide variety of choices, which will help employees learn how to customize ingredients and flavors based on the menu and customer preferences.

In addition to the food truck, Easterseals UCP of Ahoskie is expanding in other ways.

Britton said her idea of a “Smart House” was accepted by Trillium. It allows adult clients an opportunity to live independently.

“Some of our adult clients are making the transition to becoming employed. They have worked to improve their vocational skills,” Britton noted. “The Smart House allows them to learn how to live on their own, which in turn grows their confidence.”

Britton said the Smart House gradually eases the clients into independent living.

“It’s a phased approach,” she said. “In Phase 1 they spend one night a week at the house. Phase 2 they spend three nights a week and we slowly increase that time from that point, to include a phase where they learn how to pay their bills. Our goal is to have them in an out in 18 months, completing all phases of that independent living program.”

The “smart” part of the house, Britton said, are the electronic devices that monitor the residence.

“It’s not like a bunch of cameras everywhere, that’s too invasive,” she noted. “There are motion detectors which alert our on-call staff to a situation….say if motion is detected in the kitchen at 2 am, that’s not normal so it’s something we would need to check on.

“The more we’ve let go and let them do on their own, the more initiative they’ve been showing us,” Britton added.

Easterseals UCP, located at 103 Loftin Lane, is currently accepting applications for enrollment into either its adult or after-school programs. Enrollment is open to children and adults from Hertford, Bertie, Gates and Northampton counties.

To enroll or to receive more information, contact Britton at 252-513-8168 or sarah.britton@ucp.com.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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