By Gerri Miller
Residents of the Louise M. Smith Developmental Center in Prattville got a special treat Thursday when staff members held a five- and-a-half-hour parade to visit them face to face.
The Smith Center helps educate, train, support, and advocate for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. COVID-19 forced the closure of the center in March. Since then, Smith Center staff have been making phone calls to all service recipients every couple of weeks to check in and see how they are doing.
“The idea for the ride-by was something I came up with last week when my staff told me they’ve heard a lot from caregivers about how their loved ones really miss coming to the Smith Center,” said Jess Butrica, executive director of the Autauga/Western Elmore ARC. “I immediately contacted my transportation coordinator, Rachael Proctor, who I just knew could make this happen.”
Butrica said Proctor planned a route through Elmore and Autauga counties, where they visited every Smith Center attendee or “Smithies” as the staff affectionately knows them. The caravan of 11 cars visited 25 people in 17 homes from Prattville, Millbrook, Elmore, Deatsville, and Autaugaville
Riders and drivers in the caravan were staff, friends, and families as well as a board member. Most cars had multiple participants.
“Seeing everyone was wonderful!” Butrica said. “Some stood outside with signs they made themselves to show us that they missed us. We did this for them, but honestly, it brought us so much joy as well. I had tears in my eyes each time we got to another house.”
Butrica said the Center has people who have attended since it opened 35 years ago, and this is the longest time that they’ve ever had to go without seeing their friends. She said the Smith Center is more than just a place that they go from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“For many, it’s the majority of their out-of-home activities,” she said. “Some people don’t have any living family members, so their friends and staff mean the world to them. The message that we will see them soon is important.”
After the long drive, the caravan completed the parade and returned to the Smith Center. “Our hearts are so full right now!” Butrica said.
The Smith Center plans on reopening services on July 6 with a “soft opening.” Butrica said the Center will have a phase-in approach, with extra precautions taken to protect both the staff and those they serve.
The Smith Center began operations in a shopping center store front in 1984 and today occupies a state-of-the-art facility in East Prattville next to Overlook Park. Adults and high school aged students attend a year-round activities-based program teaching daily living skills, basic education, and pre-vocational training.