NORWICH — ACHIEVE staff, board members, and elected officials gathered at the new downtown Norwich ACHIEVE facility, located at 96-100 East Main Street in the former CWS Packaging plant on Friday, March 10 to break ground on the "New Beginnings in Norwich" renovation project.
ACHIEVE is a nonprofit organization that provides supports and services to more than 2,200 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Broome, Chenango, and Tioga Counties.
After nearly 50 years in service, operations at the CWS Packaging plant were wound down in December of 2021, and since then the building has sat largely vacant. In February, ACHIEVE's Board of Directors voted to convert the space into the new day habilitation facility.
The 24,000 square-foot renovation will create a 200 capacity, multi-purpose meeting space; a cafe and kitchen for job skills training; nine day service rooms; an activity center; a clinical services space; a nursing station; improved accessibility additions, including Hoyer lift systems; and a community center that will be open to the public.
"Our current day habilitation site is located outside of town up on Country Club Road, and is in need of many costly repairs and accessibility features. As we strive for greater community integration, the current site makes opportunities for meaningful community participation like volunteering, working, and even dining very difficult," said ACHIEVE CEO Amy Howard. "This location downtown, that you’re visiting here today, will address and repair the accessibility issues of the current site ... while giving individuals and staff members greater access to their community."
The total project cost is approximately $4.6 million, and is being paid for through a combination of grant funding, reserves from previous property sales, and a lead gift of $250,000 from the ACHIEVE Foundation.
"Your work positively impacts the lives of so many in our community every day, and the foundation is proud to show their support and help in whatever way we can. That’s why we’re excited to be a part of this transformation in Norwich and we’re in agreement to show our support through a lead gift of $250,000 to bring it to fruition," said ACHIEVE Foundation Board of Directors Chair Anne Catalano.
"This project will continue to enhance the quality of life for hundreds in this community, and draw further integration into the downtown landscape here in Norwich, allowing you and your work to further ACHIEVE’s mission," she added.
ACHIEVE is also reaching out to the public through a capital campaign, with a total fundraising goal of $250,000 to support the project, and are waiting to hear back on their request for a $750,000 grant through the Empire State Development Fund.
Friday's ground breaking ceremony featured guest speakers including Senator Peter Oberacker, Assemblyman Joseph Angelino, ACHIEVE Board of Directors President David Chambers, City of Norwich Alderman Dave Zieno, Commerce Chenango President and CEO Sal Testani, and ACHIEVE Foundation Board Chair Anne Catalano.
"We’re very glad to welcome the day habilitation program into the City of Norwich, and we’re excited about the additional services that can be offered at this location. We’re also glad about the additional jobs it will create in the city," said Zieno. "On behalf of the city, the mayor, and the entire common council, I’d like to say that we’re very glad that these plans, started last year, are finally coming to fruition."
The ceremony also highlighted National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, recognized annually in the month of March.
"This is a time of year that we like to celebrate the many successes and accomplishments of the individuals that we support," said Howard. "As well as our talented, loving, and caring staff members."
Howard also addressed the challenges ACHIEVE, and many other agencies like it, face each year. She said ACHIEVE has been left out of New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) budgets for the past ten years, but were awarded a cost of living adjustment (COLA) of 5.4 percent last year.
"That COLA helped us rebound. It gave us a chance to get our legs under us and to address culture and leadership and all the other things we needed to do in the organization, and to remain competitive with places I do love, like McDonald’s and Wal Mart and all those companies. But we, for a while, were having trouble keeping up and remaining competitive with our wages," said Howard.
"We have approximately 100,000 workers and 100,000 individuals that we support and serve across this great state, and being able to remain competitive with our wages is vitally important to our success."
However, the organization was only awarded a COLA of 2.5 percent by Governor Kathy Hochul in this year's budget. Howard said the adjustment is a far cry from the proposed 8.5 percent, and Senator Oberacker and Assemblyman Angelino are hard at work on increasing the adjustment.
"We are very thankful for Senator Oberacker, and Assemblyman Angelino, who have both shown their support of bringing us back up to the proposed 8 ½ percent. They are fighting on our behalf up in Albany," said Howard.
Those who would like to support ACHIEVE's request for a greater COLA increase can do so by signing an online petition from The Arc of New York, available at p2a.co/h9hUCDc and on ACHIEVE's Facebook and Twitter pages.
To wrap up the ceremony, ACHIEVE staff, board members, and special guests donned hard hats and wrenched panels from the wall, marking the start of the New Beginnings project.
With construction now under way, the organization is anticipating project completion in October of this year, with a grand opening ceremony slated for October or November.
More information on ACHIEVE can be found at ACHIEVENY.org or on the ACHIEVE Facebook page.