The Happiest Hour of the Day

His Voice, October 2003, by Chris Morrison

One of the recurring themes throughout the Bible is that God has a place and a mission for everyone in His world. Regardless of the background, education, skill or talent, God has a job for each of us, something that we were uniquely equipped to do, if we are willing to yield to His calling. To fulfill the mission that is laid before us can be the most rewarding and gratifying experience in our life, and for most of us, the path to accomplishing our task is a relatively easy one: We finish school, perhaps we go to college or learn a particular trade, and we gradually progress into the working class of mainstream society. But for some of God’s most special children, the path is not so simple. Hindered by physical or mental limitations, some find it difficult to become a responsible, productive, self-sufficient member of society. Fortunately for those people, God has inspired unique programs to assist in their development, making the road to success a little less bumpy.

The Middle Georgia area is blessed to have such an organization in our community. The Houston County Association for Exceptional Citizens, also known as the “Happy Hour Service Center,” was organized in 1956 to address the special needs of impaired youngsters. The first “class” of seven children was held in September of 1957 at the Second Baptist Church. With the support of the Warner Robins Jaycees and the city of Warner Robins, the program quickly grew in attendance and expanded its programs to meet a variety of needs. Today, the Happy Hour mission is to provide a comprehensive and high-quality service to individuals with developmental disabilities in the community. The services are determined by consumer preferences and needs, and provided in a dignified, respectful manner, based on the rights and privileges of all citizens. The philosophy behind this mission is based on the concept that the developmentally disabled or individuals with the same basic rights and privileges accorded to the non-disabled. With this in mind, Happy Hour Service Center offers a variety of programs on a continuum from basic self-care to total independence.

Participants in the various Happy Hour programs are known as ‘individuals served’. Activities are designed to meet their specific needs and include a wide range of settings. Outreach programs allow staff members to actually go to the consumer’s homes and assist with specific consumer and family needs. Day habilitation programs programs teach daily living skills to those who are more severely or profoundly impaired and also individuals coming out of institutions. The vocational programs serve individuals with developmental disabilities in work activities, sheltered employment, and supported employment. Happy Hour is most widely known for its workshops, which are essentially pre-vocational settings. Utilizing contractual agreements with many businesses and organizations, workers perform a multitude of tasks, such as sorting and de-numbering tools, cleaning and packing respirators for Robins Air Force Base, and assembling hospital kits for Houston Medical Center. From tearing rags for Boeing to digital kits for Cox Communications, the shops are literally abuzz as the consumers find was to be productive. The Robins Recycling contract is perhaps Happy Hour’s biggest ‘claim to fame’. Almost everyone on the base recognizes Happy Hour through this valuable services. The contract employs 13 individuals served who make stops at dozens of work centers around the base to collect recycled materials. In addition to the Robins contract, the Center operates its own Recycling Center, employing 26 individuals served. Processing cardboard, newspapers, magazines, phonebooks, aluminum cans, and other items, they sold nearly 2700 tons of recyclable material last year, generating revenue for Happy Hour. They have drop-off locations and offer pickup services with 17 truck routes and serve 225 stops weekly in Warner Robins and Perry. Obviously, this is no small operation! In sum, the various sheltered employment programs allow over 100 individuals served to earn a paycheck. The workshops also serve as a training ground for some individuals served to progress onward toward supported employment.

In the supported employment programs, staff members actually assist individuals served with obtaining jobs in the local community and then provide coaching to ensure that they function successfully with their employer. “In many cases, we can help the individual better understand how to interact and communicate with his/her employer and co-workers,” says Bob Wilbanks, Community Relations Manager at the Center. With the staff’s guidance, problems can be resolved as they arise and individuals’ self-confidence increases. Wilbanks also points out that the Happy Hour individuals served are are grateful for their jobs in the community, and they are generally very dedicated and dependable employees. Finally, Happy Hour offers a residential program through two 4-bedroom homes, which allow individuals to enjoy semi-independent living. “The residential program has been very successful,” says Wilbanks, and he quickly points out that construction has recently begun on a 9-unit apartment complex, which will greatly expand the residential program and provide housing for approximately 11 individuals, and an on-site manager.

With a greater understanding of Happy Hour’s mission and function, one question still remains. What is the impact of the program on the lives of the individuals? A simple walk through the facility says it all. No matter what the chore, from folding newspaper to the painstaking task of sorting the tiniest of aircraft parts, everyone is smiling, laughing, and genuinely happy to be there. Jim Cheshire, Workshop Supervisor, says that their cheerful attitudes are infectious and the primary reason he has been with the program for over 12 years. “We usually see a significant improvement in the individuals’ attitudes and behavior when they are simply given something to do which allows them to be productive and contribute to the overall mission,” Cheshire says.

Stephen T. Smith, Sr., Executive Director, says “They are so eager to work, and always happy to be here. We just help them reach their fullest potential.” Wilbanks agrees. “I am the new kid on the block, here, but even in a short period of time, the individuals have become part of my extended family. They are truly special people with a lot of love to share,” Wilbanks says. So how about that whimsical name, ‘Happy Hour’? According to tradition, one of the young children who attended the workshop many years ago told her mother how much she enjoyed going to work at the facility and said it was the “happiest hour” of her day. The name stuck around, and so did the young girl, Zoe Ann Brewer, who is still working and smiling at Happy Hour.

If you are interested in getting involved with this diverse service program, there are many opportunities. “We always have a need for volunteers to assist with individual outings,” says Wilbanks. Additionally, you can support the Center by donating recyclable materials (aluminum cans, newspaper, cardboard, etc…) or items for the Recycled Treasures Yard Sale, which is held regularly at the Center. You can also make a financial contribution.

Happy Hour is a non-profit 501c(3) organization, and also a United Way Agency.