JCDS programs feature unique holiday presents

The Best Times Digital Edition

Oct. 26, 2021

By Melissa Reeves

As the holiday season approaches, Johnson County Developmental Supports (JCDS) is a community resource for gifts, décor and more.

The creation of exceptional items results from talented artists and staff who work hard to collaborate and grow their skills. Support from the community helps these programs and its participants thrive.

JCDS offers multiple services to residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities including inhouse opportunities to earn money by creating and providing goods and services to the greater community. Work enrichment programs include Papercrete Works and Emerging Artists.

During the holiday season, creative people in service produce one-of-a-kind items such as paintings, rugs, apparel, greeting cards and more from Emerging Artists. People in services, staff and volunteers work together to create home décor, candle and photo holders, holiday signage, lawn and decorations and more from Papercrete Works.

Brad Friedman, a featured artist in the Emerging Artists program, enjoys making the holiday-themed items. “I love making holiday art because it makes me feel more creative,” he said.

Kristen Devlin, arts program specialist, echoes that sentiment.

“There is a lot of excitement for the holiday show!” she said. “The JCDS Emerging Artists love introducing their art to the community. It’s fun to gear up for the holidays early by listening to Christmas music.”

Both programs have footprints in the Kansas City metropolitan art community, and through the programs, the participants can develop their skills while earning money and making valuable connections to build a career.

The success of the programs depends on the dedication of the staff, the commitment of the participants and the support of the community. Please note the sidebar for ways to purchase holiday items from Papercrete Works and Emerging Artists.

A difference through volunteering

Programs such as Emerging Artists and Papercrete Works are successful for many reasons, including volunteers from the community. The exceptional commitment of one Papercrete Works volunteer made an indelible impact on everyone he has touched.

Robert Steffes has been a volunteer with Papercrete Works since seeing an article in JoCo Magazine in the fall of 2018. Papercrete, a construction material of shredded, recycled newspaper, Portland cement and water, creates a lightweight, durable material used in the production of unique items. Steffes has almost 50 years of experience with Portland cement so he jumped at the chance to use his experience and skills as a volunteer.

“At first, I had a hard time ‘holding back’ on dictating how to make hard, strong ‘concrete,’ as was the objective in my previous career,” he said.

A mechanical engineer, Steffes spent his career working oversees with a French oil well services company doing oil well drilling and casing cement. He worked for the Iowa Department of Transportation in highway-related materials research before retiring in 2018 from Iowa State University as a manager of the Concrete Materials Research Lab for the civil engineering department.

“I soon saw that, based on my past experience, I could help the Papercrete crew come up with a better product with easier or less work and to get more production. I could help with calculations for the papercrete mixture ingredients, measurements and weights,” he said.

His expertise has gone above and beyond to help grow the program. Steffes designed and built a pallet base for the 380-pound mixer so staff and people in service can simply use a pallet jack to move the mixer outside when it is time to mix the papercrete, allowing them to work more independently.

Steffes has also streamlined the creation of the products and makes equipment more useful to staff. He makes templates and shows the staff and program participants how to use them to be more precise and consistent in building larger products, such as the benches.

He does a lot of work from home to support the program, which has come in handy during the pandemic. A math whiz, he uses formulas to help staff determine how much of each ingredient is needed to get the optimum weight and strength from an item. Stef fes also shares his mathematical knowledge with staff.

Steffes splits his time between working at the Papercrete studio and working in his garage, sometimes spending days in his garage working on a project.

During some weeks, he spends up to 20 hours on Papercrete Works projects. The effort and time he puts into volunteering at Papercrete Works has shaped this program and changed the lives of the people who work there.

“Bob has just been the heart of Papercrete,” said Deanna Smith, Papercrete Works program coordinator.

“He’s the reason we can make benches. We’ve put eight out in the community using Bob’s formula.”

Steffes encourages anyone who is interested in volunteering to search for a place and volunteer your talents.

“You will meet some very nice people that will appreciate what you have to offer, and you will see what others put out for our community and our people that need help, he said. “It will make you feel good.”

Melissa Reeves is community relations manager at Johnson County Developmental Supports.