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This article was published 8/12/2011 (2865 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
NOTRE DAME DU LOURDES — If Maria would only stop talking and do a little work, Mountain Industries might actually finish making all the kids' toys in time for Christmas.
OK, that's an inside joke.
Maria smacked me in the shoulder playfully when I threatened to tell Free Press readers that she's the only one at Mountain Industries that doesn't do any work. When I visited, she was simply too excited, talking about all the Christmas parties she plans to attend.
Mountain Industries is a day program/workshop for mentally challenged adults. It was begun 33 years ago in Notre Dame du Lourdes, a half-hour drive west of Carman.
It was initially a humble little endeavour started by some parents for five or six special-needs adults. It has since expanded its Notre Dame building twice, and opened a satellite operation and storefront in Carman called The Stepping Stone. It also has a store in Notre Dame.
It has had up to 40 participants but now has 25, plus six full-time staff. Government funding is on a per-diem basis but about 15 per cent of revenue comes from sales.
At this time of year, Mountain Industries is like "Santa's little workshop," as one of staff put it.
"We are so busy right now," said manager Bonnie Gingrich. "Demand for kids' table-and-chair sets, and (miniature) barns are crazy right now." They have orders for about 25 table-and-chair sets.
The workers are a very welcoming cast of characters. There's the infectious enthusiasm of Justin Dupasquier, 20. Does he like working at Mountain Industries? "Oh, yeah!" he says. "Me, busy."
Another of 'Santa's elves' is Donald, 75, whose laugh is a big wheeze that never quite makes it into a full-fledged laugh, like a car engine that won't turn over. "I like painting," said Donald, who worked on a farm before starting here 15 years ago. (Many parents and guardians preferred that just first names be printed.)
Do staff work the participants too hard? "A little bit but not too much," replied participant, Josh, 24. This is a pretty stock answer from Josh, who is always finding that thin strip of middle ground.
The above-mentioned were all working at staining wooden pieces that would be assembled into kids' table-and-chair sets and Deacon's benches (a short bench with a storage trunk inside). Power tools are operated by the two staff carpenters.
One of those carpenters is Paul Petersen. He and his family split from Winnipeg five years ago and moved into a cabin in the Roseisle area that they converted into a year-round home. "I ran away," Petersen cracked.
Working as a carpenter at Mountain Industries is worlds away from his work as a carpenter in Winnipeg. "It's a blast. I have a great time. And they put up with my singing," he says of the participants.
The women tend to work in the craft area. Darlene uses latch-hooking to make multi-coloured mats "for puppy dogs and kitty cats," she explained. Debbie Vandersluis seems more aware of what's going on than anyone else even though she's vision impaired. She sews things like mats made from coloured baler twine, and scarves, all by touch.
They all get a pay cheque at the end of the month.
You'd have to check out the website (mountainindustries.ca) to see all the products they make but big sellers include name signs, such as for farms or cottages, storage trunks and play barns that are two feet high and 18 inches across. They take many special orders, too.
Participants are also placed in the community. In Carman, participants will do jobs for places like Chicken Chef and the library.
As for Maria, hopefully she's not slacking off again. One of the staff told her to say she's there for her good looks. "I'm here for good looks," she repeated several times.
Bill Redekop has been covering rural issues since 2001.
Updated on Friday, December 9, 2011 at 12:27 PM CST: Adds slideshow