It's not all about the lettuce, but the vegetable represents the innovation that has been a big part of Medina Creative Housing's success as a nationally recognized agency that helps hundreds of individuals with disabilities live independently.
Medina Creative Produce, one of the agency's programs, is run by clients who grow vegetables in a hydroponic greenhouse and sell them to area businesses, grocery stores and schools. The program's clients, who earn salaries from the sales, have developed one of the agency's most popular products: Creative Canine Cookies, made with butter bib lettuce.
"We did a market study on 100 dogs [and] 98 percent absolutely couldn't get enough of them," Dianne DePasquale-Hagerty, executive director of Creative Housing, said of the biscuits.
Today, the nonprofit corporation, created in 1992 by a grass-roots parent organization of individuals who were looking for a way to help their children with special needs be independent, is touted as a national model in providing services designed for children ages 8 through adults. It creates housing, social service and employment opportunities that traditionally have been closed to people with disabilities and the low-income population in Medina County.
Next month, the agency will celebrate the opening of its newest employment program, Medina Creative Pet Play. This week, 40 volunteers from AkzoNobel, of Strongsville, makers of Glidden Paints, were at the site to paint walls bright yellows, greens and blues.
"This is going to be a very happy place to work," said DePasquale-Hagerty, who was hired nine years ago to lead the agency.
The 3,000-square-foot Medina Creative Pet Play building is close to six new apartments that house clients who will operate the facility. Grants and fundraisers covered the $350,000 cost of the building, DePasquale-Hagerty said.
Gary Calhoun of Medina, technical director of Glidden Paints, was directing volunteers Tuesday as they applied first and second coats of bright yellow paint on the walls of a cavernous doggie play room. He said AkzoNobel will donate $15,000 in paints and incidentals, including kennels and outdoor fencing, for the agency before the work is finished.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place at noon Feb. 12 before a "Love Your Pet" open house from 1 to 6 p.m. The business -- a full-service doggie day-care center that includes a doggie boutique, grooming center, pet photo studio and cat care boarding accommodations -- is off Grand Boulevard at 4080 Creative Living Way.
The business will be run by Medina Creative Housing clients, who have been training for the job since September, and supervisors experienced in pet care. It is one of several ways the agency provides employment for individuals with disabilities, including a popular coffee shop that roasts, packages and distributes special coffee blends.
Medina Creative Therapy Ranch provides therapeutic horseback riding lessons to individuals with disabilities. A maintenance and construction crew keeps agency buildings, including housing for 80 individuals, in top shape.
"They are learning hands-on, marketable skills and earn their tools as they learn," DePasquale-Hagerty said. "People walking around with a full tool belt are proud as peacocks."
Program supervisor is Scott Earnshaw, who has 30 years of construction and vocational training experience, DePasquale-Hagerty said.
The goal of the agency, which has a waiting list of as many as 180 individuals in Medina and surrounding counties, is to recognize that each individual it serves requires different levels of training, support and security.
"Everyone has a gift and a talent, whether they have a disability or not. We are trying to home in on what is your gift, what is your passion," DePasquale-Hagerty said. That is achieved through the placement of clients with agency programs.
But for volunteer and AkzoNobel color lab manager Theresa Sutton of Litchfield, her participation goes back to the dog biscuits that began when her mother, Lucy Neubauer, picked some up at the Medina Farmers' Market for Sutton's rescued canines.
"The joke in our family is that the dogs don't eat lettuce, but they love those lettuce biscuits," she said with a laugh.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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