Tuesday, January 10, 2017 - Updated: 2:27 PM
By Rachel Keller Collins
The Marshall County Exceptional Center (MCEC) welcomed long-time friend, volunteer and board member Melonie Chambers as its newest Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jan. 3.
Chambers said she has been part of the MCEC for the past 30 years, serving as a volunteer for the majority of those and in the past few years she served as a board member. She was elected by her fellow board members as chair in May but resigned shortly after deciding to toss her name in the hat for the CEO position.
Following Diana Wall’s retirement after nearly 24 years with the MCEC, former executive director, the board selected a replacement who began in mid-Sept. Regarding the short stay of Lisa Delaney, Chambers said, “She came from a background that was somewhat similar but not the same, she came from a big facility. Unfortunately, things just didn’t work out. At that time she indicated she was going back to a former job she had, said that’s where her heart was.”
Chambers said with the director’s position again vacant and a supervisor’s position empty due to a temporary maternity leave, she stepped in and volunteered to take some trips and take a little more hands-on approach with the individuals. She said she accompanied them to events such as water aerobics, bowling and a Veterans Day parade in Paducah and shortly after, she was approached by another long-time figure at MCEC, Lindsay Wall, about tossing her name in the hat for the director’s position.
“I prayed about it and thought about it, I love this place and it’s been close to my heart for 30 years. So I contacted the board and told them about Lindsay’s idea and that I was interested and they approved it,” she said. “It’s a wonderful place to be and I’m very proud. It’s a great facility down here, a lot of love.”
Chambers said it was during the transition that the MCEC leadership and board decided to do “some restructuring” regarding job duties and responsibilities, which is why her title, previously known as ‘Executive Director,’ is now CEO. She said Wall’s title also changed to ‘Executive Director.’
Chambers said she spent the first month learning rules and regulations, completing module training on the computer, studying profiles and information about the individuals she serves and taking tests to assess her knowledge base. Along with taking the top leadership role at the center, she also became the property manager for Baker Apartments, which are overseen by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which requires continued study of “volumes and volumes of regulations and standards” that will change from time to time, she said.
One of the adjustments to the way things are done at the MCEC that’s already been implemented, Chambers said, is a more focused approached regarding core knowledge that will allow the individuals to meet the education goals they set for themselves. She said recently, one of the DSPs (Direct Support Professionals) who is focusing on community in her class, took five individuals to the post office and showed them how to do a certified return receipt letter and get mail out of the mailbox.
“We want them to learn things that maybe we take for granted and never considered teaching them before. We have a mock kitchen in the mock apartment and we can help them learn more to reach the independent living goals that the individuals have set for themselves. Some of them want to work so they have access to computers, they’re going to do mock interviews and they want to attend job fairs,” she said. “Our individuals are doing things that Joe Public may not think we can do but we are no different than Joe Public, we just may have to take a different route to get the same outcome.”
But the MCEC will continue to seek the community’s support, she said, without which none of the above would be possible. She said there are two types of waivers that pay for an individual to receive the education offered at centers similar to the MCEC and both types have many, many people on a wait list. She said at all other private facilities in the state, the individual has to be approved for and receiving the waiver before acceptance. At MCEC though, she said, no one is turned away.
Chambers said funds raised at events such as upcoming Puttin on the Mitz, New Orleans Style, sponsored by the Benton Woman’s Club on Feb. 4, cover the cost to educate such individuals including the center’s operational costs, making it possible for the center to welcome any in need with open arms. The MCEC hosts several of its own fundraising events throughout the year as well because larger events such as the telethon do not provide funding for the center.
The goal always, she said, with each fundraiser is to ensure the best quality services continue to be provided for the individuals in our community.
She said, “Not only are we exceptional; we’re one of a kind in the state, in more ways than one.”
Regarding the MCEC board of directors, she said there are currently 10 sitting on the 12-man board, which hasn’t yet been a problem as “the meetings are always well-attended.” The board elected Tim Gardner, board member since 2001, as chair following Chambers’ resignation from the position.