As a client repairs parts on a television radio, he is able to work in a safe environment thanks to the Handicap are Producers house located on the east side of base. (Senior Airman Alexandra M. Sandoval/U.S. Air Force)
by Senior Airman Megan M. Ward
2d Bomb Wing Public Affairs
2/5/2009 - BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- The Handicap are Producers House, more commonly known as HAP House, is a non-profit organization on Barksdale that provides mentally and physically disabled adults the opportunity to work and earn a paycheck.
Barksdale is the only military installation that allows a program like this to operate on base. Ever since the HAP House opened on Barksdale in 1976, the base has provided a safe place for the clients to work and socialize.
HAP House Program Director James Williams, says Barksdale has been a lifesaver to the clients by providing this environment.
"Here our clients do not have to worry about being ostracized or treated badly because the people at Barksdale have just been great," he said.
Every client at HAP House has a job and earns a paycheck at the end of the month. They can range from polishing hangars, building cable TV jumpers and even testing Christmas lights for the American Rose Garden during the holiday season.
Having a program like HAP House helps not only the clients by giving them something to look forward to every day, but it also helps the community.
"Just because they're mentally and physically challenged doesn't mean they should be excluded from the community," said Mr. Williams. "These people were once just shut-ins or not a part of the community and now they're bringing something to the table, and that something is a great work ethic."
HAP House employs more than 80 mentally and physically disabled adults and 10 Direct Service Workers who take care of the clients during the day. Cynthia Roston, a Certified Nursing Assistant supervisor, said HAP House is important because it gives the clients a place to be productive and achieve things in their lives that they want to do.
"We get to see them do things that they normally wouldn't be able to do," said Ms. Roston. "They might struggle with it, but they do it with a smile on their faces."
HAP House clients provide inspiration to the people who work there because everyday they get to see each client do something they've never done before and watch their self-esteem build.
"I just love working with the handicapped people," said Ms. Roston. "I enjoy a place like this because it's for the handicap to come and work and show that they're not really that handicap. They can do just about anything they want to do."
The clients work Monday through Friday at the workshop polishing their skills and building friendships that last a lifetime.
HAP House client Gina Williams, says she has made a lot of friends in the time she's worked at HAP House and really enjoys her job. Her job consists of working on hangars and allows her to earn money for herself.
Although HAP House is located on the east side of base near the Airman Leadership School, they are not kept separated from members of the community. They have the constant support of the Airmen and the base's senior leadership.
"I just think it's a great program," said Col. Robert E. Wheeler, 2d Bomb Wing commander. "I think those people work hard out there. They're great Americans that provide a service at the house and great Americans that are making products that we use on the base."
The Officers Spouses Club is another organization on base that helps out the HAP House. OSC President Amanda O'Brien says that HAP House is a much needed program to help give the clients a work outlet doing something they enjoy.
"They all seemed to feel a special connection to the staff and to each other, giving them a sense of purpose and community," she said.
The OSC members volunteer their time at HAP House to help bring a smile to the faces of the clients.
"Every year we put on a Christmas party," said Mrs. O'Brien. "We bring in lunch (all food is donated by BOSC members), play bingo (everybody gets a prize). We sing Christmas Carols, and the big hit is that we organize it so Santa can come visit the clients. "
In addition to the annual Christmas Party, the OSC also raises money for HAP House and even gives small gifts to the staff members.
"It's that volunteerism that comes from our nation that makes a difference in these peoples lives," said Colonel Wheeler. "It is so patriotic. It's what makes us different and it's all embodied in HAP House out there."
There have been attempts to close down HAP House on Barksdale, but Colonel Wheeler believes it's important to keep the workshop inside the gates. Barksdale is a large benefactor of the house by providing the clients and staff members a rent free building to work in. They've been moved a few times over the years, but they've always been assured that they would have a place to stay on base.
"It's connecting to that community piece that's so much apart of Barksdale, but it's also about giving back to the local community and the individuals out there," said Colonel Wheeler. "It's a really good synergy between what we have available and what they are able to provide and the needs that those individuals have, given their handicaps, to take them to the next level and make them a much more productive part of society as well as a happier group of folks."
HAP House is funded through private donations, government organizations and the United Way. These funds help to pay the costs that are required to help keep the workshop up and running. According to Mr. Williams, HAP House is always looking for ways to give back to Barksdale for their generosity.
"We try to give back as much as we can. Even if it's just participating in a recycling drive here on base, we do whatever we can," he said.
Since HAP House is a non-profit organization, they're always looking for volunteers to help during the week. They also accept monetary donations to help pay for utilities and other things that keep their doors open to the handicap. Anyone interested in more information, or how to donate time and money to the program, can call Hap House Program Director James Williams at 747-1919.