At Gulf Coast Industries in Gulfport, dozens of people dealing with mental challenges are bringing life back to old Mardi Gras throws. That work is also enriching their own lives.
The day begins with a cherry hello from the staff. Then, thousands of used beads are set free from boxes, ready to be sorted by size, shape and color. They'll be re-sold to the public, the money coming back to the workers in the form of a paycheck.
Lois Parker is the director of the program.
"Words can't describe the expressions on their faces when they receive their checks. It's like Christmas," Parker said.
Gulf Coast Industries is not well known, but that is changing quickly, according to Parker.
"Most of the people who come by have no idea that we're here and they are really surprised at the magnitude and the work that we have here and what we do. So they are very, very impressed."
For the more than 50 clients who come every day to Gulf Coast Industries, the benefits are enormous. They are productive members of society, they're earning a paycheck. But more importantly, they are simply having a good time.
Tracey Smith is one of them. "I like my friends. I like everything and being up here and I like working and I like doing all kinds of stuff."
Henry Crawford is another. "I come in and get up and come to work and listen to my staff tell me to go to work and stuff."
Does he like his job? Crawford gave an emphatic, "Yes."
Raymond Powell also works here. "I do beads and laundry bags and then I do more laundry bags and everything."
As much as these workers receive from the program, staff members get even more.
"It gives me a joy that you just can't express," Assistant Director Allen Forrest said. "Seeing their faces shine when they walk through the door every day, it's a new and exciting experience for them. They look forward to each and every day almost like a brand new beginning. They come in and they are ready to go to work."
Gulf Coast Industries is affiliated with the Gulf Coast Mental Health Center. It's located at 1110 42nd Avenue in Gulfport, just east of Broad Avenue. You can drop off beads there.
After Mardi Gras, dozens of drop boxes will be placed across the coast where donations of beads can be made as well.
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