2017-06-04 / Insight

Partnership provides summer training, keeps parks afloat

BY ANDREW DIETDERICH
810-452-2609 • adietderich@mihomepaper.com


Lapeer County features two water parks, General Squier Memorial Park in Dryden Township (pictured above), and Torzewski County Park in Oregon Township (pictured below). A partnership with the county and several agencies will provide on-the-job training for people with disabilities. Lapeer County features two water parks, General Squier Memorial Park in Dryden Township (pictured above), and Torzewski County Park in Oregon Township (pictured below). A partnership with the county and several agencies will provide on-the-job training for people with disabilities. LAPEER — The more than 30,000 expected to take advantage of Lapeer County’s parks this summer will be among the many to benefit from a multi-agency program that provides on-the-job training to people with disabilities.

The partnership consists of Lapeer County, Lapeer County Community Mental Health, Lapeer Team Work Inc., Michigan Rehabilitation Services, and the Greater Lapeer Transportation Authority.

Through the partnership, people with disabilities take part in a paid, 12-week training program working in either maintenance or concessions operations at the county’s two parks: Torzewski County Park in Oregon Township and General Squier Memorial Park in Dryden Township.

More than 200 people have taken part in the program since Dr. Robert Sprague, CEO, Lapeer County Community Health, first proposed the idea about seven years ago.

The original intent, he said, was to not only provide valuable training for participants, but also to help save the county’s parks that were forced to partially close in 2010-11 as the county dealt with the effects of the recession.

Sprague estimates the program has saved Lapeer County about $2.1 million since it started.

“What I suggested was that we form a partnership with CMH and the county,” Sprague said, adding that the idea was to use available funding through various sources to deliver training to people with disabilities in a way that also benefits the county.

The program is managed by “job coaches” from Team Work.

Sprague said program participants are “primarily individuals served through Community Mental Health that have either an intellectual development disability or a mental illness, yet they’re wanting to get back into working.”

“And upon completion of the program, they continue to work with Michigan Rehab Services to try to find competitive employment in the community,” Sprague said.

“About 50 percent of the people that have gone through the program eventually end up in competitive employment so you have reduction in individuals that had been receiving Social Security disability payments — now they’re getting into the workforce and actually earning a wage,” Sprague said.

Joseph Stock, program and operations manager, Lapeer County Buildings & Grounds, said the program has cut operations of the parks in half.

Stock said it’s amazing to watch workers change throughout the summer.

For example, some concession workers have issues dealing with the public at the beginning of the summer. The program takes that into account, Stock said, and “then by the end of the summer…they’re initiating interaction with the public.”

“It really is neat to see that and it really is a confidence booster, I’m sure, for a lot of these people,” Stock said.

On the maintenance side of operations, workers help manage garbage, mow lawns, trim weeds, and repair fences, among other things.

“They’re getting some real hands-on experience,” Stock said.

Sprague said that the program benefits those who live, work, and play in the community — even if they never set foot in one of the county parks.

“If you start doing things like closing down the parks, why would businesses or people want to move here?” he said. “It becomes kind of a death spiral and when you don’t get those new businesses, or new people, you don’t get the tax dollars and it just goes on and on and on.”

In 2014, attendance for the two county parks was at 20,384. The figure jumped to 28,214 in 2015 and to 28,357 last year. (Attendance figures represent those who have paid for waterpark access.)

The parks are scheduled to open June 17 (after most students have started summer vacation) and will remain open through Labor Day.

Torzewski County Park was donated by Ludwig Torzewski in 1983. The 65-acre park is mostly open space, with 10 acres of forest. The park is located on Pero Lake Road in Oregon Township.

The park consists nature trails, horseshoe pits, softball field, sand volleyball court, two covered pavilions, a covered amphitheater, and the wetlands water park that consists of a large- and medium-sized waterslide and two wading pools (one with a pirate ship play structure). Torzewski also offers fishing access from the shore for Pero Lake.

General Squier Memorial Park in Dryden Township is on the National and State Historic registers for Squier’s accomplishments in the U.S. Military. He donated the land where the park is located to the county in 1936.

The 87-acre park is mostly wooded and consists of a three-acre sledding hill, one mile of nature trails, picnic pavilions, a renovated historic mill, a small water park with two large water slides, Forest Hall (a three season historic hall for activities), sand volleyball, horseshoe pits, and two old playgrounds. The park also provides access to Mill Pond, where park attendees can fish from the shore.

“All-inclusive” access to the waterparks at both parks is $6 (a 10-visit pass is $42.50), and only $2 for “spectators.”

More information about Lapeer County Parks can be found online at www.lapeercountyparks.net.

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