WATERTOWN — Purchased in 1987, the building that now houses the Community Action Planning Council of Jefferson County (CAPC) has undergone quite the change from an empty, derelict building to what it is today.
Don Alexander, CEO of the Jefferson County Local Development Corporation, remembers when the building was acquired — a dilapidated, unused school. When the building was first presented to CAPC, it had been idle for quite some time because the school system decided it was no longer needed.
“When I first looked at that building the basement had several feet of water in it and the ceilings were beginning to fall down,” he said. “You just knew that if you left it much longer it was going to fall down.”
Mr. Alexander said that to say it has undergone an enormous change since then would be an understatement.
“From then to now is as far apart from that as you could imagine; CAPC has done a wonderful job,” he said. “What they’ve been able to do over time is turn that into just a sterling addition to our community, this truly is one of the community’s success stories.”
Recently, the CAPC building has undergone a few more changes.
In addition to the fresh coat of paint on the first floor, courtesy of the maintenance staff, talented local mural artist Shannon Walter worked to create a warm and welcoming mural to grace the entrance hallway of the agency with some direction from the CAPC. The mural features birds carrying ribbons representing the agency’s mission statement and programs, as well as a bright red doghouse for the agency’s new mascot: a St. Bernard named Cappy.
The agency’s mission statement is as follows: The Community Action Planning Council assists, supports and empowers people through diverse programs designed to alleviate poverty, promote self-sufficiency and advance community prosperity.
According to Claudia Whitmire, deputy director of the CAPC since February of this year, the agency works with all walks of life, but the focus is on working with individuals affected by poverty, including Head Start, Universal Pre-K, Weatherization, Jefferson-Lewis Child Care Project, Employer Resource Network and a Family Center. The Family Center houses a food pantry, assistance with Fair Housing issues, Housing Crisis Intervention and a Nutrition Outreach and Education Program (NOEP), among others.
“I think, at the end of the day, we make a difference in people’s lives,” she said.
In addition to the new mural, since Head Start is also located in the building, the Head Start staff painted a “sensory hallway” to assist children with behavioral and sensory issues. Before the colorful painted hallway floor of today, there were lines of masking tape along a carpeted floor.
According to Amanda Tate, center coordinator at Head Start, before the existence of the “sensory hallway,” they had a child who struggled with his emotions who used to lash out at the staff in very physical ways. After attending training that talked about different things to do with children to get them to reset the chemicals in their brain and help them focus their energy on something productive rather than destructive, the lines were applied to the floor.
“We would get him to come out and bounce or leapfrog or hop or skip and it would completely just redirect his mind and he stopped hitting and kicking us,” she said.
When he would start to get frustrated, instead of lashing out, the child would ask to go to the hallway.
“We kind of harassed the maintenance man until he came out here and saw that it was helping and then eventually, they let us rip up the carpet,” she said. “When Claudia started and we got everyone on board, we were finally able to paint it.”
According to Understood, a nonprofit collective focusing on learning and attention issues, the activities in sensory hallways can be really great for kids with sensory processing issues and ADHD, but everyone may be able to benefit from them.
“I like it because I’ll be sitting here and people won’t see me and I’ll see staff come down and hopscotch past my door,” Ms. Tate said. “Everybody is having fun.”