Chesapeake Center, Inc. – Seeing Beyond Disabilities

When Tammy and Chuck Tarr, of Bethlehem, were faced with the decision of navigating the next level of care for their 21-year old son Jason, who has Down’s Syndrome, after he graduated from the Caroline County Public School System, the task was daunting. The Tarr family, including their daughter Kelly and her husband Matt, was committed to keeping Jason with them at their home where he had lived since birth. Tammy, a classroom assistant at Colonel Richardson Middle School, had been fortunate that she had found a job which had worked with Jason’s schedule when he was a student at Colonel Richardson High School and Transition Center. When he completed the program with a certificate at age 21, the difficulty was then how to manage the transportation component for him to attend a community program that could meet his needs as an adult.

Chuck (left) and Tammy Tarr get their groceries bagged by their son Jason at Acme. Fellow employee Doug Cephas is sure to point out the “star” of the show.

Tammy recalls, “We are both working parents and we needed to know that he could safely get to the program we selected and that it worked with our schedules. The Chesapeake Center in Easton was the perfect fit as they not only offered Jason vocational training so that he could get regular employment, but they could provide the transportation we needed from Caroline County where we live.”

Chesapeake Center, Inc. envisions a caring community in which individuals with disabilities become empowered to demonstrate their choice of residence, career, friends and activities where they are safe from abuse, neglect, recrimination and ridicule. The Center’s mission is to assist adults with disabilities to reach their potential for independence by pursuing opportunities for housing, employment, natural supports, friendship and community activities. Chesapeake Bay Industries, Inc. provides portal transportation for the vocational and residential programs for the Chesapeake Center, operating eight 15-passenger vans, eight caravans, four wheelchair vans and five sedans. The organization transports 65 passengers a total of 3,170 miles per week.

Jason Tarr, of Bethlehem, has been employed part-time at Acme in Easton for four years through Chesapeake Center’s supported employment jobs, with the help of job coach Ronnie Antonio, of Trappe.
For the Tarrs, this meant Jason could participate in the Center’s vocational training, completing small assembly jobs, as well as with the Center’s manufacturing component, providing recycling and janitorial services. They wanted him to learn to work in the public and to volunteer and give back to the community.

Tammy adds, “The diversity of jobs at the Chesapeake Center gave him different activities to focus on which helped accommodate his short attention span.”

Chesapeake Center is the nation’s sole supplier to the U.S. Navy of nuclear grade cotton wiping cloths. Commercial sewers, quality control employees and packers complete this job before the on-site government inspection. Local businesses sub-contract small assembly jobs, items to be packed in a kit and bulk mailings. The Center also manufactures wooden crab mallets that can be customized for special occasions. These are purchased by local distributors and sold across the United States. Chesapeake Center also holds a contract with the Talbot County Health Department for car washing and parking lot cleanup. Employees with disabilities take pride in recycling aluminum, paper, cardboard, cloth pieces and computer equipment. In addition, workers are paid to maintain the recycling igloos located on Dover Road and at the Amish Market in Easton. Other Chesapeake Center workers learn to bake and prepare meals in the commercial kitchen, inspected by the Talbot County Environmental Health Office. These baked goods are sold to the public who phone in orders.

One of the most important services Chesapeake Center offered the Tarr family was to help Jason find employment in the community and to provide him with a job coach who could help him with his daily job responsibilities. Four years ago, Acme in Easton agreed to hire Jason part-time as a grocery bagger. He now works there two hours a day, three days of the week.

Tammy comments, “It was a hard transition from school to work. We practiced bagging groceries at home, learning how to separate the cold and hot foods. His job coach, Mr. Ronnie, drives him to Acme, helps him with the time clock to record his work hours and oversees his work while he is there. He has been fantastic with Jason.”

Ronnie Antonio, of Trappe, Jason’s job coach, comments, “Jason is doing really well. I have to let him do it by himself and he knows what he is doing. The staff at Acme love him – he is a star here.”

Tammy adds, “Jason gets a paycheck every week for minimum wage and he does his banking by himself. He calls it his ‘mad money’ for the weekend and we allow him to spend it on his passion, which is attending rock ‘n roll and blues concerts in the region. We all attend the concerts together and many of the bands now know him and invite him on stage.”

Donna Harrison, President of the Chesapeake Center, Inc., states, “As a non-profit human service agency, Chesapeake Center offers a full array of community-based services to adults with various disabilities who want to become vital members of the community. Chesapeake Center provides vocational training through on the job training so employees with disabilities can earn a paycheck for work performed.”

According to Donna, for those participants whose focus is not work, Chesapeake Center offers life skills training to increase self-sufficiency. Participants may add to their skills in grooming, personal care, conversation, hobbies, recreation, healthy living and safety. Individual assistance is offered as needed in the restroom, at meal times and with medical needs.

Chesapeake Center, Inc. was founded in 1967 by a group of concerned parents, desperate to find meaningful opportunities for their adult children with disabilities. The property at 713 Dover Road was donated by Talbot County philanthropist, Mrs. Alton Jones. Local businesses Willow Construction, Duncan Masonry, Tom’s General Services, H.W. Heinsohn, Inc. and Eastern Shore Hospitality were instrumental in the construction and renovation of the buildings on the Dover Road campus.

Many vocational consumers live in residences owned or operated by Chesapeake Group Homes. Living with three to eight other adults in nine staffed group homes and three apartments, 40 adult residents learn how to take care of themselves and their house as staff supports residents as they learn how to do laundry, cook, clean, plan their free time, explore hobbies, exercise and visit friends and family. The Office of Health Care Quality licenses the residential program annually.

For those who master household skills and can safely live alone, Chesapeake Center offers drop-in support services by trained staff who helps with medical appointments, errands, grocery shopping, banking, budgeting and housekeeping, as well as recreational activities. The goal is to help consumers become contributing members of the community. Respite care is also available to relieve the day-to-day responsibility of the primary caregiver.

As a not for profit agency, Chesapeake Center is reimbursed for many of its community-based services by the Maryland Department of Health and Hygiene’s Developmental Disabilities Administration. Eligibility is determined by DDA by contacting the Resource Coordinator from the County Health Department where the applicant resides. Each day, the agency serves approximately 200 individuals with various disabilities from the Mid-Shore, including 74 percent from Talbot County, 13 percent from Dorchester County, 11 percent from Caroline County and two percent from Queen Anne’s County. Chesapeake Center has 100 full-time and 25 part-time employees. There are 28 full-time staff and four part-time staff who support seven consumers in supported employment jobs and assist 15 consumers at community internships with such organizations as the YMCA of the Chesapeake, Talbot Humane Society and the Habitat Re-Store.

Jason’s hobbies and interests include baseball and equestrian activities and attending Camp Fairlee each summer. He also makes time to volunteer at Talbot Humane Society two days a week.

Chuck Tarr comments, “It’s been great to have Jason at the Chesapeake Center. We were at a crossroads about where to send him when he completed school. He loves being around people and working has been super for him.”

Tammy adds, “I wish we could all be like Jason and see the world as he sees it. We are very proud of him and his accomplishments and we are especially grateful for his family at Acme as they see Jason as a person first and then see his disability.”

Chesapeake Center will assist individuals with disabilities to reach their potential for independence by pursuing opportunities in housing, employment, natural supports, friendships and community activities. Private donations to the Chesapeake Center go a long way toward enabling adults with disabilities to reach their full potential. For further information, visit or call 410-822-4122.

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