Rachel Fox of Cortland said the atmosphere at the Nicholson Center is like home. She and others expressed shock and sadness that the center may have to close its doors permanently.
"I really don't know what I'll do if the center has to close. Cry my eyes out, I guess. It's like home," Fox, 33, said.
Because of the onslaught of below-freezing temperatures, the center has been without clients since Jan. 13.
The facility's founder and Executive Director Robert Nicholson said the unforseeable weather conditions have resulted in a $150,000 loss in state funding that cannot be recouped.
"We only get paid if we provide services. This cold weather, it's just been brutal ... putting our clients' health and safety at risk. Especially the wind is hard on the clients because physically, it's painful and it causes their noses to bleed or run. They're just brutal elements," he said.
The Nicholson Center was opened in 2010 to provide employment and training for adults with developmental disabilities or special needs.
Nicholson also owns Tommy's Jerky Outlet stores in Warren, Boardman, Salem and Calcutta, and a gift shop, Sincerely Yours, in Howland. All have been closed since Friday.
"Friday was the day that it became very clear. The weather report was terrible for the last week in January. I knew our clients wouldn't be coming and things were really bad," he said.
Nicholson employs many of the facility's clients at his stores, and all of that will change if the Nicholson Center shuts down permanently.
"There's subsidies coming in because of the people that we employ ... and we can't live without that support," he said.
He said 100 clients and 31 employees will be affected by the closures.
"They're asking when they can come back to work," he said.
Rachel Fox's mother, Sharon Fox, said she was broken-hearted when she heard the news on Tuesday.
"She's going to be lost. We had a bad day yesterday; that's her life. Rob's good with them. He just has a heart for them that I haven't seen in a long time.
"Rachel, she just really loves it. It's just been really good for her. It's boosted her self-esteem and just like a sense of self worth. We've tried other places for Rachel, it just didn't work out. I feel really good about her being there; I think it's a safe place to work, she has a lot of friends," she said.
Rachel, who washes dishes and laundry at the center, cried when recounting happy experiences there.
"Rob's just the sweetest person. You can't ask for a better boss. It's so beautiful ... he literally dances around the room with us. It was just beautiful. He's nice. It's just nice because we're all family," she said.
Nicholson said his mission to provide care for adults with developmental disabilities stems from his experiences as a child whose mother was also a caregiver.
"My entire life's work has been providing services to adults with developmental disabilities. They're human beings, they're people. Just like anyone else, they want to work ... they want to go places that they like and be around people that they like, and everyone should have choices and different options. If there's only one, then our clients have a lower quality of life," he said.
Nicholson said he explored ways to recoup the loss in funding, including business interruption insurance.
"Unfortunately, the cold weather is not covered," he said. If a pipe had burst and caused the center to close, it probably would have been covered, he said.
Haley Razum of Warren, supervisor of Tommy's Jerky Outlet in Warren, said she is disappointed that she and others - both staff and clients - will soon lose their jobs.
"They're going to be devastated, disappointed and heartbroken. Rob provided a great opportunity for these clients to have the opportunity to work in the public. (It) provides a place for the clients to go outside of their facilities or where they live," she said.
Frank Karlovic of Howland, whose son attends the Nicholson Center and works at Tommy's Jerky Outlet in Warren, said the situation isn't good for his family.
"I work, my wife works. My son will be out of work and I don't know what he would do all day. He's in a wheelchair and I don't leave him home by himself," he said.
Nicholson said although it looks like all hope is lost, he's not dismissing the possibility that the community may pull together and help keep the center going.
"It's certainly possible that somebody would step up and be a white knight and help us recover," he said.
If the center closes, he said he will refer people to the Trumbull, Mahoning or Columbiana Board of Developmental Disabilities.