Chris is a soap maker, working each day at By Nature Soap, producing handmade soaps and other personal care products. Chris is an exceptional young man. Like most young people these days Chris is constantly looking for new challenges, enjoys working on his computer, and likes to have fun. What makes Chris unique is that because he has physical and mental challenges he requires a bit of assistance in his daily life. Chris is one of some 250 men and women who have developmental disabilities and live at O’Berry Center in Goldsboro, North Carolina.
O’Berry Neuro-Medical Treatment Center, a part of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, is a cluster of group homes serving the needs of people with a wide range of physical and mental challenges. In addition to providing all the services you would expect, O’Berry also offers to those who live here the opportunity to participate in a variety of Creative Enterprises that offer meaningful activities. “Being creative and active is a vital and important part of every person’s life,” explained Barbara Doerter, Program Director. “We know that personal satisfaction and the sense of accomplishment derived from completing a task is important to all of us. That is our challenge, to provide meaningful activities to all our residents who choose to participate,” added Doerter. “The principle difference between our Creative Enterprises and traditional creative arts programs is that participants are compensated and we sell our completed products. The proceeds from our sales allow us to reinvest constantly in our various enterprises and expand opportunities”.
The largest enterprise is the specialty foods program that prepares a full line of snack foods in the Sweet Treats Bakery, a NCDA Certified production facility. Sold under the brand name “The Old Log Cabin Mercantile”, our snack treats are built around fresh local pecans and peanuts. “We are fortunate to have dozens of mature pecan trees on our campus that we harvest annually. Recently we expanded into peanut products when we began a relationship with a local peanut grower. ,” noted Charles Spiron, Marketing Director for Berry Towne Crafts, the marketing entity for all the various Artisan Programs. “More that twenty different items sold under our brand include everything from Butter Roasted Pecans to Honey Glazed Peanuts,” said Cindy Riley, logistics manager for Sweet Treats. “We sell our products all over America both wholesale and through our website.” Regina Strickland, production manager and responsible for developing new products added, “While we have had great success selling our snacks, we are most proud of the first place awards we have received in food competitions. Two of our first place winners, Honey Scrunch and Sweet n’ Spicy Pecans are completely unique recipes we developed in house.” “We promote North Carolina products and agriculture and are proud members of NC Goodness Grows”, said Tenika Roddick production specialist in Sweet Treats.
By Nature Soap is another of the main Artisan Programs for those at O’Berry Center. The soapworks produces very high quality handmade organic soaps, lotions, butters, and balms. “All our products use the finest quality oils, butters, botanicals, and essential oils from all around the world,” said Pam Kendall, the Soapworks manager. “We search the world to find only the best, pure certified organic ingredients. They cost substantially more but, because our mission is to provide opportunities not large profits, we can still offer our products at very competitive prices,” Kendall said. By Nature Soap offers more than forty different kinds of soap, lip balm, body butter moisturizers, lotions, bath salts and scrubs, all of which have one thing in common. “All our products use natural ingredients and contain no chemicals, additives, petroleum products, artificial ingredients, preservatives, or fillers,” added Kendall. “Our products are 100% pure, mild and hypoallergenic.”
Anita Smith along with Randy Wright guides the pottery studio. “North Carolina has a long tradition in pottery as exampled by the world wide reputation of the Seagrove area known as the pottery capital of America. We use only native North Carolina clay and our work is hand thrown on the potter’s wheel, made on our slab rollers, or extruded,” Smith said. “We use all the traditional methods of throwing, coil pottery, and slab building.” After drying, the clay is fired in the studio’s kiln to 1850 degrees for the first, or bisque, firing. Various artisans then apply glaze and the items are fired to their final temperature of 2350 degrees producing durable high quality stoneware. There are a wide variety of task performed by the individuals in the studio. They include preparing and weighing the clay, operating the slab roll or extruder, and glazing the bisque. “Our pottery mentors guide the creative process,” Smith added, “we use techniques that are specific to the needs of each individual. With some who work on the wheel, we use a hand over hand process that assists them in forming the item”.
“We are very proud of the pottery and personal care products we are making, which is comprised of a number of Artisan Studios. Through Berry Towne Crafts we market and operate nearly a dozen Creative Enterprises that provide options for the individuals living here,” added Spiron. Other artisan areas include a woodworking studio directed by Angie Jones and featuring their NABS Certified Bluebird houses; a custom printing shop managed by Evelyn Peacock specializing in monogrammed note pads; and the Green Thumb Greenhouse, managed by Pam Culbreth, and offering a large selection of house and garden plants. “When people shop with us, we want everyone to know that everything they buy from us they are getting ‘Handmade from North Carolina’.”
“As our businesses expanded, we identified the need to provide an enhanced shopping experience to better showcase the exceptional work of our individuals”, added Barbara Doerter. “We sell our products at our retail shop, managed by Anna Hoye and located in a 1600 square foot old fashioned hand hewn and chinked log cabin in keeping with our traditional crafts. “We are so pleased with the support we get from the public who visit our store and shop online,” Doerter continued. “When people buy our products, they are ensuring our continued success and enabling us to expand our Artisan Programs and the opportunities we can offer to the people we serve. We all work for one common purpose, to offer meaningful, life enriching creative opportunities grounded in fun and expressive activities”.