HVO celebrates 40 years
In 1972 when the Haywood County Sheltered Workshop first opened its doors with six clients, few would have guessed that the small day program for developmentally disabled adults would grow into Haywood Vocational Opportunities, a nonprofit social enterprise company serving 235 clients annually and employing 348 workers.
Now, 40 years later, HVO is not only one of the largest employers in Haywood County, but the company also provides job training and programs to help adults with disadvantages and varying degrees of physical and mental disabilities succeed and become productive citizens in the community.
“A person who has a disability or barrier to employment can be a productive citizen,” said HVO President George Marshall, who has worked for the organization for almost 35 years. “That’s what we’re about. That’s why we exist.”
Then and now
HVO’s origins began modestly enough in one classroom of an old elementary school in Canton, where clients made cornhusk dolls for sale. Later, with the help of the Waynesville Rotary Club, the program expanded and moved to Haywood Community College’s campus to establish a woodworking program.
In the mid-80s, the Haywood County Sheltered Workshop changed its name to Haywood Vocational Opportunities and became a public nonprofit organization, eventually moving into a 48,700-square-foot facility in the Hazelwood community, where clients began producing disposable medical products.
HVO now boasts two state-of-the-art facilities and through its medical manufacturing business, generates 96 percent of the funds needed for job training and many other community programs.
“We’ve found a niche and are doing well in our niche,” Marshall said. “We’re continuing to try to broaden our product line.”
But what HVO really does in Haywood County goes far beyond the business side of things. The clients that have gone through HVO’s programs are able to find jobs out in the community or sometimes fill open positions at the organization. Either way, they are achieving a level of independence and personal success that might have been thought impossible without the help of HVO.
“It just empowers them,” said Phyllis Brooks, vice president of employment and training. “It just gives them ownership of their life.”
Many clients come to HVO having never worked before, but by the time they go through training and address any obstacles to employment they might have, they develop the skills needed to find and keep a job.
“We’re training them to get ready for the workforce,” Brooks explained. “They are ready, and they are ready to achieve. We give them the opportunity to work to achieve their goals.”
While, HVO is a nonprofit, the organization’s success as a social enterprise business is in being able to produce most of it’s own income, Marshall said. Not being dependent on public funds has given HVO a way to continue its programs even as other public programs have been cut because of shrinking budgets.
One of the programs entirely funded by HVO is the Learning and Enrichment Program for seniors with developmental disabilities. The program gives participants the chance to engage with the community through volunteer work and activities.
“A few years after I was hired, we were struggling, and we really took the position — I can tell you I certainly did — we really had to focus on long-term survival,” he said. “Obviously, we’ve far exceeded my expectations.”