Hancock County Sheltered Workshop looking for levy renewal

Matt Elcessor goes over some math problems with Ashley Burtag, a job skills trainer at the Hancock County Sheltered Workshop. (Photo by Stephen Huba)

WEIRTON-The washers and dryers at the Hancock Laundry are so big they can handle all the walk-off mats in the state Capitol-and 20 more Charleston buildings besides.

The machines work nearly round-the-clock, cleaning 3 million pounds of laundry a year from government buildings, state hospitals, nursing homes, hotels and other facilities.

But their constant hum also means employment for 92 people with disabilities and $2 million in annual revenue for the Hancock County Sheltered Workshop, the agency charged with providing jobs, training and other services for Hancock County residents with mental and physical disabilities.

“Our main mission is providing jobs to people with disabilities,” said Executive Director Michael B. Hagg, “and our business plan is being competitive in the commercial laundry business, while being true to our mission.”

On Nov. 8, Hancock County voters will decide whether to renew another major source of revenue for the Sheltered Workshop-a four-year bond levy.

Billy Utt, of New Cumberland, takes sheets off an automated folder and stacks them at the Hancock Laundry, a business of the Hancock County Sheltered Workshop. (Photo by Stephen Huba)

The levy, which raises about $250,000 toward the workshop’s annual budget of $3.1 million, helps especially with the cost of transporting clients who work at the Hancock Laundry in Weirton, Hagg said.

“The biggest barrier to employment is the lack of transportation, so we go to their doorstop,” he said, noting that only three or four clients are able to transport themselves. “The cost of vehicles, drivers and gas is an expensive part of our budget.”

Clients are picked up from all over the county-Chester, Newell, New Manchester, New Cumberland, Weirton and all points in between. They include people with autism, physical handicaps, multiple handicaps, traumatic brain injury and mental illness.

Hancock County residents last approved the levy, which requires a 60 percent margin of passage, in 2012. If the levy is renewed, the current rate of taxation-0.80 cents per $100 of assessed value of owner-occupied property and 1.61 cents per $100 of assessed value of personal property (cars, boats, rentals)-will apply for the next four years.

Although the sheltered workshop opened its doors in 1958, the laundry operation goes back only 17 years. Previously, clients did contract work for area steel mills and other employers, but the focus shifted to a commercial laundry in the late 1990s, Hagg said.

Jamie Capito (left), of Chester, and Christina Harford, of Weirton, put sheets into an automated spreader/feeder at the Hancock Laundry, a business of the Hancock County Sheltered Workshop. (Photo by Stephen Huba)

The workshop and laundry occupy 23,000 square feet of space that used to be Loblaws grocery store, at 1100 Pennsylvania Ave. Clients work a variety of shifts, some clocking more than 30 hours a week. All who come to the workshop are encouraged to work at least some hours, along with receiving training in life skills-money management, food preparation and computer use.

Workers are paid $8.75 an hour, the current West Virginia minimum wage.

“Our ultimate goal is for them to be as independent as possible,” Hagg said, “which is why we provide them a combination of work and training. That creates self-esteem and self-worth-and it also helps them pay the bills.”

Although the equipment they operate is state-of-the-art, the machine operation is fairly simple. The large laundry area holds three small washers, with a capacity of 125 pounds each, and four large washers, with a capacity of 400 pounds each.

There are three large dryers, as well as machines for the ironing and folding of sheets. Workers feed the sheets into a spreader/feeder and then stack the sheets once they have gone through the automated ironer and folder.

Among the items laundered by the Hancock Laundry are mops from institutions. (Photo by Stephen Huba)

In addition to sheets and walk-off mats, the Hancock Laundry handles bath towels, hand towels, dust mops, wet mops, patient gowns, medical scrubs, bed pads, blankets, pillow cases and bath mats. The laundry both rents pieces and accepts company-owned goods, as in the case of Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort.

The laundry’s six 26-foot trucks and two smaller trucks are constantly on the go, traveling as far as Huntington and Charleston two and three times a week, Hagg said. “It’s a lot of miles, a lot of maintenance,” said.

The laundry arrives soiled in one bay and goes out clean through the second bay.

At 6 p.m. Oct. 18, the workshop will hold its annual Community Dinner at Mountaineer. Interested people should RSVP by Oct. 11 by calling Tammy at 304-748-2370.