Occupational Training Center in Burlington Township gives those with disabilities a chance to be independent

BURLINGTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. (WPVI) -- For many of us, having independence and being able to provide for yourself and others can be one of the greatest joys in life. For adults with disabilities, reaching that goal can be a difficult challenge.

The workshop at O.T.C., the Occupational Training Center in Burlington Township, New Jersey is working hard to make that challenge a little easier.

On the surface it's your average workshop or factory floor, workers busy putting things together, packaging different products from Styrofoam cups to spools of thread and more.

But, this is a unique place, they are not just building things, they are building up lives.

O.T.C. offers adults with disabilities vocational training and job placement, like the bench work program happening at this 52,000 square foot facility.

O.T.C. has dozens of packaging contracts with private businesses, many of who are long-time repeat customers because of the quality of work being done.

And the workers here like Adrien, just love it.

"I love everything about the job here I do. It gives me a good, fun feeling that I can come here and do the job well and right the first time," says Adrien Berry.

And the parents love it too.

"Adrien can get on the bus by herself, get up by herself and looks forward to coming and has that self-worth. She has the same feelings that you and I would have, but on her own level. I think if all of us got up looking forward to work the way Adrien does, the world would be a happier place," says Dorene Berry.

O.T.C. was founded by parents more than 50 years ago to create employment opportunities for those with disabilities because options were scarce.

Riley Hansom has seen firsthand the positive impact of O.T.C. on his family. His daughter Jasmine, who is deaf, has been coming to O.T.C. for years, eager to learn and work.

"It makes me feel proud. I see her enthusiasm to come to work. O.T.C. is like a family, the people that work here are family to her," says Riley Hansom.

Executive Director Jeff Haines has been working at O.T.C. for 43 years and never gets tired of walking the floor and interacting with the group.

"No matter how bad you feel on a given day, or how bad things are going for you, if you come here it all goes away. The people are just amazing, the effort they put forth," says Jeff Haines.

O.T.C. has dozens of packaging contracts with private businesses, many who are long-time repeat customers because of the quality of work being done.

"A lot of times they have to convince their higher-ups that this is a good idea to site work here, so it has to be good work, it has to be done on time, and sometimes they come to us at the last minute because they know they can count on us to do it," Haines says.

It's the dedicated workers like Shannon Taggart who just started a couple years ago, who say the opportunities to work at O.T.C. have changed her life.

"Because I come here I get up, take care of my things that I need to do. I got my own place, and O.T.C. helped me out a lot," says Shannon Taggart.

O.T.C. is a certified government contractor, also doing work for state and federal organizations. Beyond the bench work program, they have placed trainees in dining service, as well as janitorial and recycling collection positions within municipalities in Burlington County.

As a result of these efforts, many adults once dependent on programs such as social security and Medicaid are able to become independent tax paying citizens within their communities, and for Willie Alvarez, that means the world.

"It's not only them giving me an opportunity, but also me giving them, my neighborhood, my community the opportunity to receive the help from a person that is disabled," says Willie Alvarez.

Willie has been working at O.T.C. for 20 plus years, and for him, there's nothing like getting a paycheck.

"It feels great. Really, it feels great that you can go buy something, and say this was bought by my sweat, I worked for it. It's a great feeling inside that you accomplished something in life," says Alvarez.

And as the sign says, O.T.C. of Burlington County is helping Willy and others accomplish the goal of reaching their maximum potential.

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