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West Central Industries celebrates 50 years of service to Willmar, Minn., community

Terry Thompson, an employee at West Central Industries, works behind the cashier's window Friday at the Kandiyohi County Recycling Center in Willmar. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- West Central Industries helps people with disabilities find jobs and contribute to their communities.

The nonprofit company, founded in 1962, provides employment training, job placement and job retention programs for hundreds of people with disabilities.

"Fifty years ago, most people with disabilities lived in a state hospital," said Charles Oakes, CEO.

Clients just ate and slept; they didn't have any routine to their lives, he said.

Today, more than 300 clients of West Central Industries are employed and active in the community.

"Our theme is 'opening doors to better lives,' and that's really what we try to do," said Jamin Johnson, special projects coordinator.

West Central Industries will celebrate 50 years of providing that kind of service to the community with an open house celebration at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at West Central Industries, 1300 22nd St. S.W. in Willmar.

There are more than 120 adult group homes in the area, but the residents are active and integrated into the community, Johnson said.

Staff members meet with clients to learn about their interests and then work with them to develop the skills they need for a job. Partnering with local businesses, West Central Industries finds jobs for more than 300 clients -- about 100 at the warehouse and 200 at businesses throughout the community.

Clients employed at the Central Industries warehouse work in the kitchen helping with the Meals on Wheels program, on assembly lines packaging goods or in the shop cutting wood. Other clients are employed at more than 100 regional businesses such as Home Depot, Cash Wise Foods, Walmart, Jennie-O and Family Dollar.

"Now, our clients can say, 'I work at Walmart, I volunteer at my church ... I contribute to my community,'" Johnson said.

They earn hourly wages, which allow them to go to movies, shop, buy groceries and pay their bills.

The services at West Central Industries help clients become more independent.

People are happier, and they're contributing to their own care, Oakes said.

Meals on Wheels

WCI's service project Meals on Wheels, founded in 1972, celebrates 40 years of service to the Willmar community. The program prepares about 100 nutritious meals a day, six days a week, to people who are elderly, disabled or ill. The service helps people stay independent and live in their own homes.