Waites is surrounded daily by heroes

Published 9:52 am Friday, November 6, 2015

Considering his efforts to transform Midd West Industries from a quiet, inefficient agency to a self-supporting agency providing intellectually disabled people in Vicksburg and Warren County an opportunity learn a skill and support themselves, Kearney Waites would be considered a hero.

But Waites, Midd West’s executive director, says the real heroes are the people the agency helps.

“They’re heroes because can you imagine how scary it is to be told you couldn’t work all your life, that you couldn’t do this, and you couldn’t do that, and then along comes the Midd-West staff and they say, ‘have we got a deal for you. How would you like to do…’ but it’s scary.

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“Can you imagine the courage it takes in a disabled person to walk out of this door and into the door at wherever? We’ve got them working all over town — service, industrial, janitorial services, that’s what takes courage.

“They never back off,” he said. “If put you work in front of them they consider work a privilege. Many people get up in the morning and don’t want to go to work. They consider work to be a privilege; they’re included in the community, at that point, whether they work in the workshop, (or) whether they want to work in the community.

“They may say, ‘I don’t know how to do it, somebody show me,’ but you will never have, ‘Man I don’t want to do it.’”

Midd West’s goal, Waites said, is to have its clients in a position to be able to work for an employer in the community and, with the staff’s support, function by themselves in the community.

“After the parents are gone, after special ed is gone, we’re it, which is why we’ve structured our program to be lifelong,” he said. “We like for them (the clients) to go out and make their own way with our help.”

Unlike many similar programs in the state, he said, Midd West is not tied to a state agency or regional mental health program, adding the agency owns its building and property

“We are fiercely independent,” he said. “We make our own way.”

“We are a rehab program, but we try to run it like a business,” Waites said. “We have service contracts, the janitorial contract at ERDC, we operate two federal mailrooms, we’re contractor for Medicaid; a service provider for them with three different services under home and community- based services.

“We have a minimum of outside funding. Used to be, when you looked at our financial reports, you would see a big column for grants receivable and then a small column for accounts receivable. We’ve turned that around and we have only one line item for a grant receivable and that’s a nominal grant.”

At one time when the economy was strong, Waites said, MiddWest had contracts for packaging, assembly, light assembly, quality assurance, assembling parts kits, we handling bulk mail and making other products. MiddWest now prepares plastic and paper for recycling.

Part of Midd West’s funding comes through the Medicaid contracts, which covers about one-third of the 60 clients who work at the center and pays the agency to train those clients, match them to a job, and put them in the job until they can independently support themselves.

“We place anywhere from 30 to 50 people in community employment every year, and that’s employment that sticks,” Waites said. “That’s employment where they’re getting a paycheck. That’s not play work, make work; not work where the job coach is doing the work. It’d real work. Anything less is really an insult to our people.

“We don’t want them to be hired because the employer is sympathetic; we don’t want them to be hired for any reason other than a true value to their employer.”

Everybody coming to Midd West has work to do from the time they get here until the time they leave, he said, adding they bring home a check.

“And when I start seeing those checks go up, up, up, on an individual, I start asking the staff, ‘Why are they still here?’ It’s time for them to move out to the transitions program that identifies people ready to leave and matches them to a job in the community and trains them on the job or at the center, to do the job maintain the job, and we provide coach at no cost to the employer, the job coach makes sure they can do the job and have transportation to the job.”

He said the staff assesses clients for their strengths and their needs, concentrating on their needs to keep them in that job. The staff also helps their graduates pay their bills and teaches them how to live on their own — how to cook, take care of a home, and other necessary activities required to live independently.

When Waites, who has a master’s in counseling psychology, got his first look at the center that became MiddWest it was a program called “Sheltered Acres” and was operated by the Warren County Association for Retarded Citizens Inc.

The name, he said, sounded “a lot like a cemetery or a nursing home. It certainly implies what a person cannot do as opposed to what one can do.”

United Way of West Central Mississippi sent him as a volunteer to evaluate the program, and told them to shut it down because it was had no direction and little participation.

“And thank God, his angels and his saints, they didn’t listen to me.”

Instead, Waites became an advisor, and in 1980 became director.

He said working at Midd West is interesting. “It’s a privilege, and when you get here you never know what’s going to happen. Some days, you don’t want to leave, and some days you say you’re never coming back, but you do, because you love it.”


About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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