The residential center in Tupelo where adults with visual disabilities can get intensive independence and vocational training, costs $500,000 a year to maintain, and has seen low demand for services over the past several years, said Tarea Stout, director of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation in the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services.
“During the past state fiscal year, only one client that completed the program was successfully employed, which is the goal of the program,” Stout said.
State Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, a longtime champion for the center, said the economics of the situation mean that even out-of-state centers are substantially less expensive than continuing to operate the Reach Center.
“I’m going to have to stand behind the decision at this point, even as much as I regret it,” said Holland, who encouraged people with visual disabilities to contact him if they feel they aren’t getting the services they need. “The money that’s being spent on services is not going away.”
There has been a history of intensive services for the blind at the Pegram Drive center since the 1960s. Mike Carrithers, who trained at the center after losing his sight to a medical condition, said the center’s closing is an incredible loss to the region.
“If it hadn’t been for the center, I and a lot of other blind people would not be employed,” said Carrithers, who worked at LC Industries for 25 years before being sidelined by health problems.
Services and training for the blind will still be provided through the Addie McBryde Center in Jackson, community-based providers or out-of-state centers, Stout said. The department’s AbilityWorks of Tupelo program will remain open in the same Pegram Drive building.
Currently, there are five employees and three students at the center – a fourth student withdrew this week because of health issues, Stout said. The state department is working with students to help them complete the program or transition to other programs and to eventually find other jobs.