A Different World

January 8, 2011

By Rebecca Layne
January 8, 2011

Cody Plaster can’t hide his excitement, but it’s difficult for him to express how he feels.

His face contorts and the words are halting, but eventually they come out.

“Watch this!” he stammers as he slides an envelope into a mail slot.

Cody, 14, has mastered mail delivery at Grafton – a private, not-for-profit organization that serves people with a combination of intellectual disabilities and psychiatric disorders.

Despite his disability, Cody knows how to match the Grafton employee’s name on the mail to the employee’s picture on the mail slot.

For him, successfully delivering mail is all about the short-term reward – earning a diet Mountain Dew, his favorite drink.

For Grafton officials, it’s much more than that.

“Our job, literally, is to give people their lives back,” says Jim Gaynor, Grafton’s chief executive officer and president. “In some cases, that’s saving their lives.”

“Challenging people”

The majority of children, youths, and adults at Grafton can’t live in the outside world.

They’re trapped in their own world – non-verbal. They often have trouble with manual dexterity and can sometimes be aggressive with a tendency to lash out.

“We’d like to think we can serve the most challenging people,” said Kim Sanders, executive vice president. “Some are the most severe behavioral challenges you could ever imagine.”

On a Wednesday in January, the statement seems incongruent with the quiet halls of the Ruth Birch Center at 120 Bellview Ave. – the corporate headquarters and an educational facility of Grafton. The organization has about 700 employees and treats about 400 individuals in three locations: Winchester, Berryville, and Richmond.