Columbia Industries debuts facility in Kennewick for adults with disabilities

Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldMay 8, 2014 

A staff member at Columbia Industries' new community center pulled a slip of paper from the so-called Treasure Box and read a question about cake: How many in the room like the treat?

All hands shot up. One man, Joey Higgins, even stood up and waved his arm for emphasis.

Higgins likes cake. And he really likes participating in activities at the new community center, which opened this week on Columbia Industries' Dayton Street campus in Kennewick.

Higgins, 44, of Kennewick, spent his first day there Thursday, and he told the Herald -- during a lively round of the game Treasure Box, in which players answered questions and performed tasks based on prompts written on slips of paper from the box -- that he was having fun so far.

The community center aims to provide education and enrichment opportunities for disabled adults. Members will play games, take classes on topics from cooking to Internet safety, embark on field trips and participate in community service.

Other activities, from yoga and Zumba to weekly crafts to a book club, also are envisioned.

The community center "gives people with disabilities a safe place to come and interact with their friends," said Kay Hamilton, director of program operations for Columbia Industries.

It's new territory for the nonprofit, which is known for its work helping disabled people build up job skills. Columbia Industries provides community-based job placement, as well as training and employment through its own operations, including CI Solutions and the Shop CI thrift store.

But it's seen state funding for training drop, leading to a reduction in hours and leaving a void for some clients and families, officials told the Herald late last year, when they were making plans to open the community center.

The operation is a way to help bridge the gap for Columbia Industries clients and others in the community, said Cheri Buchanan, manager.

It's open to the community and isn't limited to existing Columbia Industries clients.

The community center operates on weekdays, with three-hour sessions in the mornings and afternoons. Officials expect to add evening and weekend hours at some point, and they also anticipate opening to high school students with disabilities during the summer.

Buchanan said the hope is to partner with AARP and the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to allow their participants to get on-site work experience at the center. It's a way the center can help the community, she told the Herald.

The center is in a newly updated building, with sofas and books and a computer lab. A table-and-chairs set that looks straight out of a 1950s diner sits in one corner. An air hockey table is nearby.

Loren Franz, 26, of Kennewick, said that's his favorite.

He also showed off the pea seeds he started in an egg shell during a planting class. He said he has been having fun at the center.

Tuition is $13 a session, with deals for multiple sessions. Some scholarships are available.

Applications for the center are available at www.columbiaindustries.com.

People interested in volunteering, teaching a class or donating can call 582-4142, ext. 119.

A ribbon cutting to mark the opening of the community center is planned for 11:30 a.m. May 22, with an open house from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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