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Butler Activity Center cookin#039; up great things

Delicious odors waft down the hallways of the building as cooking class is fully underway in the busy kitchen. One group of students is carefully preparing stuffed green peppers under the watchful eye of instructor Shannon Herbert. Others measure and mix spices, eggs, sugar and yams to create one of several sweet potato pies on their baking menu for the day. "We'll probably freeze and save those pies for our Thanksgiving meal," Cooking Instructor Minnie Peterson explains.

This is not a local high school home economics class. The busy and attentive folks learning their way around a kitchen are all consumers (clients) served by the Butler Activity and Training Center on Greenville's Hardscramble Road. The oldest of the 32 consumers currently served at the center is 78-year-old Robert Norton, who's right in the thick of things. "I hope when I'm his age, I'll be as healthy and happy as Robert," remarks center director Sheila Martin as she watches the smiling senior citizen and his fellow budding cooks at work.

Everyone appears to be having a good time

and learning a lot, too.

Martin is thrilled' with the success of the facility's expanded cooking program this year. "We now have five cooking classes. Our consumers are all learning the basics of food preparation, food shopping and menu planning."

The consumers get a special opportunity every few weeks to show off all their new culinary skills. "At the end of each month a big meal is prepared for the whole center with the consumers planning the menu for the meal, going out and buying the groceries and then coming into the kitchen and putting it all together…they have a wonderful time and are really learning a lot," Martin explains.

Beginning in the month of November, each of the classes will take turns daily preparing a meal for the center. "It's great experience for our folks," Martin says.

The expansion of the center's cooking program has been made possible through monies provided by the United Fund, financial support Martin and her staff consider a godsend.'

The facility annually holds successful fund-raising events such as its recent Boston Butt sale. "But the truth is", says Martin, "that without those matching funds we receive through the United Fund, we would simply not be able to keep our doors open here."

And keeping the center open is very important to its consumers and their families.

Butler Activity Center consumers are given the opportunity each weekday to develop important daily living skills such as doing routine household chores (doing laundry, washing dishes, making beds), learning the ins and outs of yard maintenance, and, of course, developing their cooking and baking skills.

For some, this could mean an eventual successful transition to an assisted living facility. "We encourage our folks to be prepared to be independent and do as much as they can for themselves," says Martin.

Lower-functioning consumers served by the center are also taught to do whatever they can to help care for themselves. These consumers receive instruction in personal hygiene-washing hands and face, combing hair and brushing teeth, for example.

The center is in its second year of involvement with the local YMCA (another United Fund organization) which provides regular exercise classes to consumers (whose families pay the membership fee).

"That program is doing so well for us… our folks are up and moving and being active. One of our guys has lost 18 pounds since he started going to the classes

it's wonderful!" Martin exclaims.

A project that benefits both the community and the consumers is the Activity Center's aluminum can and newspaper recycling programs. "I think folks sometimes forget we have our recycling program over here-please, please, we need your papers. It's the way our consumers earn some money, it's good for the environment, it's good for all of us," Martin reminds the public.

Some of the center's consumers work part-time jobs in the community and are consistently praised' by their bosses for their positive attitudes and strong work ethics, says Martin. These are qualities she believes her capable and caring staff have helped to instill in their charges.

"We work very hard on helping our people learn to function within the community on every level possible…and we appreciate so much the support we receive back from the community by their contributions to the United Fund," says Martin.