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Pottery with a Conscience

Providence Center’s pottery studio participants learn important skills about integrating into the community.

Tucked behind the next to the sits a modest brown building that houses the ’s pottery studio. Its exterior is unremarkable and a bit worn.

Step through the entryway of the studio, though, and the unremarkable exterior quickly fades away. Inside is a group of enthusiastic adults, known as “participants,” who work in the center’s pottery program. Twenty-some participants gather in the studio each morning to shape and cast bowls, mugs, pitchers and other ceramics.

What’s remarkable though is that decades ago, many of these adults with developmental disabilities might have been institutionalized for life. With Providence’s pottery studio, along with its other programs, these adults are now working for a living and participating actively in the community.

It’s part of Providence’s mission, says Audra Harrison, the communications manager. The core of this mission is to have these adults integrate into the community by holding jobs, paying taxes and making their own financial decisions.

We want “our participants to gain as much independence as possible,” she says, “by designing their own futures.” Providence offers them choices and options so they can take charge of shaping their own lives.

Providence runs three production facilities: the pottery studio, a woodshop in Millersville; and a in Arnold. These programs, combined with the center’s art institute and its brand new technology center, offer participants varied tracks towards occupation and employment.

Richard Austin has been with Providence for over 25 years. He mixes up a batch of slip—a liquified clay slurry—while he talks haltingly about his jobs. He currently works part-time at the studio, while also holding part-time jobs at Annapolis Volvo and Homestead Gardens.

“Richard is a great demonstration of what we are trying to achieve,” says Harrison. “He’s very much a leader to a lot of people here, and he’s experiencing tremendous independence.”

To succeed, though, many need logistical assistance. Harrison relies on Woody Allen’s line, “90 percent of life is just showing up,” to illustrate the point that the participants wouldn’t be able to “show up” without the Providence’s fleet of 70 vans and buses. These vehicles transport them from home to the various programs and to their other jobs in the community

Tom Wright, the director of production for Providence, has an easy and comfortable relationship with the participants. He banters with them while providing gentle guidance.

With a degree in ceramics, Wright can attest to the quality of the pottery pieces created at the studio. Since these items provide a significant funding source for the program, Wright ensures that the pieces for sale are well crafted and safe for home cooking. He and Harrison refer to the goods as top-quality products with a conscience.

Each pottery participant receives a check for time spent working at the studio. The same is true of the other production facilities.

Providence Center has also engendered a lot of community involvement. Some area businesses hire Providence participants. Holmes Lawn Care, for instance, employed more than 60 people to deliver flyers. Other businesses, including Bay Ridge Wine and Spirits, Whole Foods, and Homestead Gardens carry the pottery and other products for sale. The owner of Nadina’s Cremes, a high-end body cream business on the Eastern Shore, has partnered with the studio for 20 years, using the small pottery jars as packaging for the creams.

The money from the sale of all products goes right back into Providence activities. Unlike many organizations, the production programs may prove to be the saving grace for this decades-old organization. As funding for such organizations is cut in these economically difficult times, the sale of pottery and other goods pumps money back into Providence’s operations. To mitigate the loss of state funds, the center hopes to amp up the marketing of these products to a wider audience.

“We’re losing about half a million dollars from the state,” says Harrison. “So the economic challenges are affecting us.”

You wouldn’t know it from the participants. Snippets of conversation punctuate the background buzz as they work with the clay.

“What’s going on, Bud?” says one participant when someone shows up at the door. “Did you hear that the Redskins WON!”

Providence Center’s holiday sale of pottery, woodshop products, holiday decorations, poinsettias, and fir trees is open to the public from now until Dec. 18 (Monday to Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) at the Jean Bradbury Building, 370 Shore Acres Rd. in Arnold. All proceeds go to the center’s programs.

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