Byline: Brian Lee
SOUTHBRIDGE - On Friday, Melvin W. Lewallen shampooed the floor of a sport utility vehicle, his self-proclaimed specialty at Just the Details, an automobile detailing program of the Center of Hope.
"I love this place," the 24-year-old Southbridge resident said Friday. "This is a place that's given me an opportunity to work out skills and stuff to go out into the world."
Center of Hope serves disabled people from 450 families in 41 towns. The center, also known as the Southern Worcester County ARC, is growing, according to Cynthia L. Howard, director of ARC services. But while it's hosting more people and programs, funding is not growing at as rapid a pace.
One of 22 ARCs in the state, the program had a nearly $7 million budget in fiscal 2008. Nearly 44 percent is reimbursed from Medicaid and more than 34 percent is from the state Department of Mental Retardation.
State Rep. Geraldo Alicea, D-Charlton, said garnering more money for the 52-year-old center, which has seen level funding from the state the last 20 years, was a priority when he met with the House of Ways and Means Committee. There have been no cost-of-living adjustments, although there have been some small adjustments to increase salaries.
"With the costs of living and everything going up, it's not really level funding," Mr. Alicea said.
State Rep. Richard T. Moore, D-Uxbridge, also supports the center's work.
"Any time we're helping to get people who would be kind of `in the shadows of life' so to speak, to get back into the mainstream, to be productive citizens and take pride in their work, we want to be able to help encourage that," he said.
Both officials noted hard financial times would make getting more funding for the center difficult.
Mrs. Howard said she tries to contact all 21 legislators who represent the communities that the center serves.
"I know that there are hundreds and thousands of things competing for the same pot of money," Mrs. Howard said. "But we are still the most economical way of providing services to people with disability in the private provider forum."
The program holds a legislative breakfast each year in which it tries to bring in a high-profile speaker to net an audience of those who...