NILES - In a last-ditch effort to save their facility, staff and clients of the Nicholson Center in Niles are pooling their efforts to recoup the loss in funds suffered from being closed during inclement winter weather.
The Nicholson Center is a nonprofit facility that provides employment and training for adults with developmental disabilities or special needs.
It has been without clients since mid-January due to the frigid onslaught of below-freezing temperatures that have been sweeping the Valley.
Founder and executive director Robert Nicholson reported a $150,000 loss in state and federal funding might keep those doors closed for good, but he and other staff members aren't ready to give up hope just yet.
Starting on Saturday, the center will have three days of food, games, dancing, and even a car-smashing as volunteers appeal to members of the community for their support.
"It would be the best thing ever for all of us, for our clients to keep their jobs and for us to keep our jobs and for everybody to stay the family that we are," said Amy Kelley, one of the staff members who is spearheading the fundraiser.
Nicholson has offered his first car, a Mustang named Veronica, for participants to smash for donations.
"You know, not everybody gets to come out and smash a car every day. It's good for a little relief of whatever they may be holding inside. I know I'm probably going to get my hits in on it," Kelley said.
Although the vehicle is no longer running, the decision didn't come easy for Nicholson, who has had the car for more than 15 years.
"She never broke down, never left me stranded anywhere, and has always been a blessing in my life. My hope is that this last gift can raise money and maybe save the Nicholson Center," he said, adding, "I won't be able to watch."
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, that also provide jobs for clients. All have been closed since January.
When the center closed, Nicholson said, "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."
The Fairhaven Program in Niles also provides services through the Trumbull County Board of Developmental Disabilities to adults with developmental disabilities, and has offered to step in for clients needing services.
"Although this is a very difficult situation for the individuals attending the Nicholson Center and the employees, Fairhaven's history has always been to help people with disabilities receive the services they need,'' Fairhaven Superintendent Edward J. Stark said previously.
As for the Nicholson Center's fundraisers, Kelley said the center could use some help with making baskets for the Chinese auction, including prizes, boxes and wrapping material, especially men-friendly gifts. Volunteers also are needed for bingo callers and Texas Hold'em dealers.
The itinerary for the fundraiser includes such things as a pancake breakfast, cornhole tournament, a Valentine Dance with live music by Guys Without Ties, spaghetti dinner, and the Texas Hold'em tournament. All take place at the center, 1240 N. Main St. in Niles.
The pancake breakfast and spaghetti lunch / dinner are $10 for adults or $5 for children; the price for karaoke is $10 or a donation. Veronica the Mustang will be available for smashing on all three days at a cost of $10 per hit or $20 for three hits.
"All proceeds from these fundraisers will go to the Nicholson Center to keep our doors open and to provide jobs for both our clients and workers," Kelley said.
"We love our clients, working with them. For me it's been the best experience of my life. The Nicholson Center has been very great to me; I'd never want to work at another job," she said.