Weaving just one product of Lawrence County agency

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At the Caritas Weaving Loft outside New Castle, four women put their hands to the task of helping themselves and showcasing the promise of the mental-health services system.

Wendy Lutz, Cindy Shaffer, Susan Summers and Jennifer Sweet make rugs, tops, tote bags, baby booties, scarves and teddy bears. "It's sort of meditative. You get into a rhythm," Ms. Lutz said as a rug took shape on her loom.

The weaving, knitting and crocheting are therapeutic for the women, who have mental illnesses. The program is operated by Human Services Center, an agency with residential and treatment programs.

Caritas Personal Care Home offers a serene setting

Caritas Personal Care home in Slippery Rock Township, Lawrence County, serves clients with a history of serious psychiatric difficulties. (Video by Andrew Rush; 9/24/2013)

The Weaving Loft, which sells its products at festivals and shows in Pennsylvania and New York, is one component of the center's growing entrepreneurship. With its clients' help, the agency also operates a pet-grooming business, raises and sells sweet corn and grows other vegetables, which it turns into salsa and other products.

"We're big into canning," said Steve Plyler, agency residential director.

Residents also operate a janitorial company and a leaf-processing plant that sells its product to municipalities as mulch and fill. They help operate a kennel, which gives disadvantaged residents a place to board pets while they weather a crisis. They help care for alpacas, which provide wool for weaving.

Many of the business operations are based at Caritas Personal Care Home, which sits on a former farm. Whether they live in the personal care home, apartments or other facilities that the center operates in Lawrence County, the agency's clients are encouraged to work at least 10 hours a week, Mr. Plyler said.

The work builds a sense of responsibility, which, in turn, can help residents manage their illnesses. "Rarely do I have anybody go into the hospital from my housing program," Mr. Plyler said.

The workers are paid an hourly rate, depending on level of skill, but the ventures are not a money-maker for Human Services Center, which has had $600,000 cut from its budget over the past two fiscal years, said Dennis W. Nebel, the agency's executive director.

Each product leaving the weaving loft bears a tag with the creator's name and the program's story.

While the four make the work look easy, it isn't. Ms. Shaffer, for example, takes a breather when anxiety creeps up on her.

"I was making that bear and had to quit," she said.

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Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548. First Published September 25, 2013 4:00 AM


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