What began as a babysitting service a half century ago, has blossomed into a loving and thriving environment for developmentally challenged adults.
The Gilmore Center is celebrating its 50 year anniversary, and director Jimmy Aaron is a proud peacock.
“Mrs. Vera Gilmore started the center 50 years ago as a babysitting service for folks who had mentally retarded children and needed somewhere they could go during the day where they would be loved and taken care of in the appropriate manner and setting,” said Aaron. “It was originally located in a classroom at Grace Baptist Church, from what I understand. We're not sure how many students she began with, but she left a loving legacy that has been carried on for over five decades.”
Aaron says although the center has changed locations several times over the years and day work programs have been added, the facility is still based on the same principles Mrs. Gilmore started with.
“Our goal is to see people with developmental disabilities achieve the goals they have set for themselves,” he said. “We are able to help them achieve that by giving them independence and responsibility through empowerment. Growth and development area are key factors when it comes to attaining a sense of identity.”
Community involvement and pre-vocational training are ways The Gilmore Center has assisted many of its students. The objective is to have students incorporated into the job market and the community at large.
“Some of our students had never worked before coming to the center,” said Aaron. “We offer training and support groups to ready them for the workplace. We are fortunate to live in a community that is also supportive of people looking to expand their horizons. Without them, we could not offer the students a complete package. Several churches, the school system and major industries have opened their doors and hearts to us, and for that we are forever grateful. There is no way to convey the difference they have made in the lives of our students.”
Aside from the day program offered at Gilmore, there are three residential facilities to house the more challenged students.
“Our 24-hour house-care was established to care for those who are unable to live on their own,” said Aaron. “We have 13 full-time staff members spread over three houses. They provide round-the-clock care for patients who are medically fragile in a safe and maintained home environment. A lot of these students came to us by way of the state. Some had been cared for by family who could no longer handle the responsibility, and some others had been institutionalized for most of their lives before they came to us. We have really been able to see a difference in these people because of the one-on-one care we offer at the homes.“
Aaron says his life is richer because of his decision to work with the people who patronize the center's services.
“I came to Gilmore in 1978 and never left,” he said laughing. “This was not a career choice that I had thought of in the past. I was so impressed with the level of care, love and devotion from the staff and the students equally, that I found it hard to leave. Sure, we have our struggles just like any other business does, but at the end of the day my connection with these people and the community makes me thankful I am affiliated with a facility like this. I hope Mrs. Gilmore is happy with the way we have carried on her legacy of care.”