Cathy Musso and Sherald Thomas work side by side at different tasks. Thomas, 42, brags that he's without peer when it comes to running a nail gun.
Musso, 49, can usually be found stacking wood and cleaning up. In her world, everyone is a treasured friend. And the people at the woodshop all return her affection.They are two of more than 20 adult workers, all mentally or physically disabled, for whom this special woodshop in Nephi was created. Operated by Bethphage (pronounced Beth-fa-jee), the community service arm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the woodshop has contracts with local and national businesses to provide wood boxes, pallets, wood benches and framed doors, according to Susy Embley, community relations manager for Bethphage.
Besides operating the woodshop, Utah's branch of Bethphage (named for the biblical town near Bethany) operates residential services, helps people with developmental disabilities who live in their own homes or in foster care and provides supported employment, including job coaches. The clients it serves range in age from 21 to 67, according to executive director Janeal Jacobs. Eight of the woodshop employees also live in a group home in Nephi.
"I think work is important to everyone," Jacobs said. "And possibly more so to people with disabilities. It builds self-esteem and the feeling they're contributing to society. They build skills they would want to use in a more integrated work environment. There's real accomplishment and a feeling of completed tasks."
Bethphage's clients have a broad range of disabilities. Some need a lot of support, "but we've seen a lot of growth in them," Jacobs said. "Others have become much more independent.
The name Bethphage means "unripened figs."
The woodshop will hold an open house April 30 and May 1 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to showcase the accomplishments of the employees and to celebrate completion of the woodshop's 400th door. The shop is located at 1470 N. 200 West in Nephi.
The Lutheran-operated agency, which serves people regardless of their religion, came into Utah County five years ago and took over two existing local agencies, earning state contracts to help pay for the services they provide to people who have been designated "developmentally disabled." That term means they have severe physical or mental impairments diagnosed before age 21 that are likely to continue indefinitely.
Headquartered nationally in Omaha, Neb., Bethphage is more than 80 years old and has programs in 65 communities in 15 states, Latvia and the United Kingdom. Its reach in Utah includes Richfield and Nephi.
Freedom has been the prize for many of the 42 individuals enrolled in Utah's Bethphage.
Thomas now lives with his wife, Pam, in a home they are buying with the money he earns at the woodshop and at a part-time job at Denny's. Bethphage job coaches helped him secure the work. After five years at the woodshop, he knows all the jobs, and Clint Robertson, woodshop production manager, says there's nothing Thomas can't accomplish with encouragement and support.
Musso not only has the self-confidence to work at the woodshop, but for three years she has been a dedicated volunteer at Mona Elementary School's Head Start Program, said Embley. There, she reads and plays with the children.
Both Thomas and Musso have job coaches who support them not only in employment but in other endeavors.
"I think it's great," said Jacobs. "I'm not Lutheran, but I really enjoy working for a truly Christian organization. This works for me."