Augusta Training Shop Helps Those With Disabilities Shine
For Bobbie Prescott, working at Augusta Training Shop is more than a job – it’s a place of family and a blessing.
Prescott, 64, became a paraplegic when she was 28 years old, and 20 years ago she became a double-amputee. But she knew she was still capable of some kind of work.
“I was sitting at home, just asking the Lord, ‘I know there’s something I’m able to do,’” she said.
Nearly seven years ago, while on a bus traveling to an appointment, the bus stopped at Augusta Training Shop to drop off another passenger. Intrigued, Prescott later rolled over to the shop in her motorized wheel chair and was hired.
“It’s allowed me to get out of the house, to have fellowship with others and learn a trade,” she said. “The bonus part is I get a little money with it.”
Prescott’s story is one of many similar stories among the employees of Augusta Training Shop, where people with mental or physical handicaps are trained in specialized skills including furniture repair, chair caning and the intricate weaving of wooden snowflakes that have become the shop’s signature product.
“It’s a second home for everybody here,” said Leah McGee, program supervisor. “It’s very nurturing and supportive. There’s a sense here that everyone looks out for each other.”
Augusta Training Shop started in 1947 as a day care for people with cerebral palsy. About 50 years ago, it transitioned into a workplace to allow those with physical or mental disabilities to learn a trade and earn some money.
The shop has a capacity for 25 employees – and they are employees, paid for their work – and some have worked there for more than 30 years. Most have some form of mental challenge, while others, like Prescott, have physical handicaps.
“There aren’t always a lot of options for them,” McGee said. “Their options are incredibly limited.”
Augusta Training Shop has a variety of jobs in furniture refinishing and weaving snowflakes.
“There are some things they’re very capable of doing,” McGee said. “We find out what works best for the individual. The trick is to find the diamond in the rough to see what really shines in that individual. We’re looking for what everyone can do instead of what they can’t do.”
The jobs the employees become experts in are the things that people without their handicaps often find difficult. Prescott, for example, skillfully performs the intricate work of caning chair seats.
“We’ve had a number of customers bring in chairs that they started caning themselves for us to finish for them,” McGee said. “They tell us, ‘It looked so easy on YouTube.’”
The employees show a concentration and dedication to their work that would make most employers envious. The joy they take in their tasks infuses the work space and is passed on to visitors to the shop.
“It’s exciting for them to have that sense of accomplishment,” McGee said. “As much as anything, it instills self-esteem. It’s important for them to feel like what they do matters, that they’re not a burden.”
The snowflakes, woven in a wide variety of styles and sizes from thin strips of wood, have become the shop’s signature item. They have also become an important revenue stream.
Like most nonprofits, funding is always critical. Augusta Training Shop still relies on outside funding, but selling the snowflakes provides a financial buffer.
“The snowflakes are a unique way to establish income we otherwise didn’t have,” McGee said.
Refinishing furniture remains an important function of the shop. Several employees strip and sand the furniture, while others work on various repairs and refinishing.
McGee believes that Augusta Training Shop is the only facility like it in the region. Visitors are encouraged to come to the shop at 1704 Franklin Lane (behind the Family Dollar on Walton Way, near the medical district).
“We’re unique in what we do,” McGee said. “It’s good for the community to come in and understand what we do here.”
What Augusta Training Shop does is provide a safe space where people often marginalized by society can thrive. Prescott spoke what she and the rest of the employees feel.
“When you come here, you don’t want to leave,” she said. “I’m having the time of my life.”