- Associated Press - Sunday, July 6, 2014

SENATOBIA, Miss. (AP) - In the “Conwood Room” of one of the two vocational complexes at The Baddour Center south of Senatobia, Jordan H., 30, of Auburn, Alabama, explained how best to fill a snuffbox carton. Inside, five sleeves soon would hold Grizzly Wintergreen.

In a day’s time, Jordan and her colleagues, whose full names are not released by Baddour, will have 10,000 or more cartons ready to send out, said Magda Todd, director of resident employment at the center, which serves the mentally disabled and marks its 35th full year in 2014. Todd helps assign people to tasks, and Jordan was well-suited for her job, as she’s able to nimbly place sleeves.

“They enjoy working and never complain,” Todd said of her workforce.

With 12 years on Baddour’s staff, Todd also has no complaints: “I love what I do. I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”

They’re packaged like this, Jordan said proudly of a sleeved carton. But she’s still learning skills, she adds modestly.

At her table in a busy section with almost four dozen other residents, Jordan, who came to Baddour a year ago, told her neighbors - Frances C., 48, of Lexington, Kentucky, and Jane H., 57, of Charleston, West Virginia - that she enjoyed her recent trip to St. Louis with the Miracles, the center’s musical ambassadors.

All had a good time, said Jordan. She enjoyed visiting two museums and what she called a hospital for birds. She said they saw some snakes up close.

Frances, a resident for about nine months, said she’d rather see a snake in a zoo.

Jane, the table’s senior resident with 25 years at Baddour, said she really likes working and loves seeing plays and going to Memphis Redbirds games.

Baddour began with a benevolent vision of the Baddour family, founders of the Memphis-based Fred’s store chain. Paul M. Baddour and Donald Baddour, sons of Paul Baddour, whose bequest was the center’s foundation, serve on the center’s board.

“Our goal back in 1978 when we opened is still the same, to be a community for adults with intellectual disabilities,” said Parke Pepper, 45, the energetic executive director at faith-based, nonprofit Baddour since June 2004.

Community involves conveying the means “to live, learn and earn,” said the native of Magee in South Mississippi and graduate of United Methodist Church-affiliated Millsaps College in Jackson.

“Those things are so important, but another key piece - the ‘little brother’ of the group - is that we play in our community,” said Pepper. “There’s that social aspect, that lets our residents express themselves, make friends, have relationships, to celebrate one another in good times and to reconcile when there are troubles.

“We’re not here to dictate, but to foster an environment where all these things can happen,” Pepper said of the staff approach.

Adding to the challenge are funding needs amid a constricted economy and adapting to technical and caregiving change.

The setting is on 120 rolling acres off U.S. Highway 51 in Tate County about 35 miles south of Memphis. Capacity is about 170 residents whose dwelling options range from supervised living in 14 group homes to shared independent living in four duplex apartments.

At Baddour, they receive specialized programs and services aimed at boosting intellectual, social, physical, emotional, vocational and spiritual growth.

GED classes are available through a partnership with a Senatobia neighbor, Northwest Mississippi Community College.

There are Special Olympics and intramural sports opportunities, plus Bible study groups, “expressive arts” such as plays and recitals and the well-known Miracles, with members selected through auditions of Baddour’s musically gifted. Among vocational efforts, the expanded garden center also is famed.

For the government-minded, there’s an elected community mayor, vice mayor, secretary and treasurer. At present there are 149 residents representing 24 states.

“Our residents have talents, strengths and weaknesses just like the rest of us,” said Pepper, “but the pieces just move at a different pace. They accept each other, and we accept them as they are.”

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Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com

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