On Tuesday, December 12, Kent Sussex Industries (KSI) held a ribbon cutting for their newly renovated Life Enrichment Center. This is the first step toward total transformation of the KSI Skill Development Center on Rehoboth Boulevard.
“We have been in this facility for nearly 40 years now. And for those of us who’ve been here a long time like me, you remember what this was? Well, this was the main road to the beach in those days, but also this was an old shirt factory,” Jim Greenwell KSI Vice-President of Finance and Technology, said. “And the company that ran the shirt factory up and left the state with the economic development bonds. The state approached us, and we worked out a deal where KSI could take over this facility, and we’ve been here ever since.”
Greenwell continued that the building continued to look like the old factory and with the organization providing services to as many as 200 participants, it was time to change the look from an old warehouse to something the participants could be proud of.
“For many of the people we deal with, they spend a significant portion of their adult lives in this building. That’s just the fact of the service we provide. So, when you think about that, and you think about the space that they’ve been in, this is a heck of an improvement in what they’re going to see every day,” Greenwell said. “It is based around living and where they’re gonna have their activities and their learning activities and spend their day with their friends. So this is a major, major improvement. We were able to come up with a facility thanks to a Community Reinvestment Grant from the state and some support for some other private sources.”
KSI plans to continue their revitalization efforts in the building as fund become available. Greenwell stated that he was looking forward to the “balloons coming down” and watching the faces of the participants when they entered the renovated facility. He also thanked those who had helped KSI make this project a success.
“You know it’s a great day to be back here and see what has happened here at this facility. I can recall in the early days, the old facility here. You mentioned earlier that was a shirt factory, but we called it a dress factory. I can remember when they liquidated and moved out of town. Our company came in and sold all the tables, the gear that they had in the other part of the building here before KSI came in. I go back to thinking of other things that happened,” Senator Dave Wilson said. “When Lee Travelware went out of business, they donated a lot of their items when they left up in the Smyrna area and Mr. Cliff Crouch was here at that time. We picked up the items and sold them for the facility here, so it is near and dear to my heart to see this facility. And these people that you see here come here every day. What they get done here and where these are people willing and able bodied that don’t always get work, even though they are some of the best workers. They’re dependable. We’ve had them work for our company, and I can tell you, they’re dependable. They’re dedicated to being to work, they show up on time, and they’re just good, good group of people that we need to be doing more for.”
Senator Wilson told the crowd that he was dedicated to continuing legislative support for KSI, pointing out that no one knew what the 2025 budget would bring, but that he would fight for Milford’s worthy organizations to help them grow. Representative Danny Short of Seaford agreed, explaining his connection to KSI.
“You might ask what a guy from Seaford might know about KSI well, a little history. I see my good buddy Bill Strickland back here and Mayor Archie Campbell. But I was fortunate enough to meet the Crouches back in a timeframe when I worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield. We actually had an office in Milford. I worked on Lakeview Avenue. We had staff there and were right across the street from LD Caulk. So, my job as the Senior Marketing rep for Kent and Sussex was to visit LD Caulk, IG Burton and KSI. And innovative things were happening,” Representative Short said. “I mean, how can you raise money when you tell people that have come to a golf tournament that they get to use three clubs and that was the event and that was the first one we knew about, right Bill? I mean our guys liked playing in that tournament but then all of our foursome brought the same three clubs. And we didn’t do much. But my point is it was innovative.”
Representative Short continued, talking about how he got to know the Crouch family as part of his work with Blue Cross. He commented that the organization was doing good things then and continues to do good things now. He also stated that he watched the KSI bus pick up young people on either side of his home to bring them to work at the facility, pointing out that many people with disabilities struggled to find work, to be recognized and to be active in society.
“I bring it up because I think there’s a lesson to be learned from this. The legislators and all of us here individually support KSI much like what I think we should do as legislators. They make a difference individually, one life at a time. One life at a time, because those lives were changed when they became participants here at KSI,” Representative Short said. “They have a place to go, a mission and they will tell you about it at the end of the day. So, I’m just here to say that we’re here to support you. Senator Wilson will bend our arms this year to help out if the money’s there, and we’ll be able to do what we think are important things and support functions like this.”
Mayor Archie Campbell commented that it was a good day for Milford as the new police facility held a ribbon cutting earlier that morning. With this expansion of KSI, he was “riding on a cloud.”
“I’d like to welcome all of our state representatives are here today but most importantly, I would like to give big welcome to KSI employees that showed up today. Over the past few years, you all had a multitude of challenges. As they came along, you overcame them. This goes to all the dedication and hard work KSI employees put in every day,” Travis Frey, KSI Board Chairman, said. “With this new facility, here it’s indicative of the hard work that you’re putting representations moving forward into a new phase of care is also looking to the future. We’re excited to have Heath among the KSI family. He’s going to provide new and safe leadership as we move forward. So, on behalf the board directors want to say thank you to everyone, especially employees. We’re excited to see what new next phases KSI could bring.”
The program ended with comments from KSI’s new CEO, Heath Chasanov, who has only been on the job for one week. He began his speech reminding Representative Short that Woodbridge had beaten Seaford in football 13 straight times.
“Before I get into why we’re here today, I want to remind everyone it is my seventh day. Not years, seven days and I’ve learned a lot. I have a lot more to learn. But the one thing that became really evident right away was how much this staff loved and respected Jim. And I want to thank Jim for the job that he’s done in keeping your organization afloat over the last year. He has been telling me all week he doesn’t like to get in front of a mic but I find that hard to believe because he has done a great job. It’s phenomenal,” Chasanov said. “I want to welcome everyone on behalf of the board, our staff and most importantly our participants. I appreciate everybody being here for today’s ribbon cutting. I’m honored. I’m excited to be the new CEO here after 32 years in education. I served students, I served families, I served communities. This isn’t that different. In fact, it’s not different at all in that respect. I am still serving and that was probably the piece for me. That was most important. I was looking for an opportunity where I can continue to serve people and there’s no better group to serve in that group of participants who come here five days a week. And so I’m honored to be to be part of that.”
Chasanov continued that he was “riding the coattails” of the project but thanked the staff that had been instrumental in making it happen. He explained that KSI had been in the building since 1985 with an initial focus on providing vocational skills and employment placement for people with disabilities.
“Over the next several decades, KSI refined their programming and got more involved in life enrichment, encouraging independence of our participants. And we started to realize that the old warehouse space really didn’t meet our needs for those kinds of programs,” Chasanov said. “So we’re proud to say today when you look at this renovated wing, this is a result of that recognizing that we needed to match up facilities with the programming that we were providing to be able to provide effective programs with the respect that they deserve. And that’s the first part of what we’re planning on doing here.”
The new space offers lower ceilings with acoustic tiles for better control of sound, something important for participants who may suffer from anxiety due to high noise situations. There are upgraded computer systems, a better HVAC system, adjustable lighting to create a different environmental character depending on the needs of participants, mid-room retractable partitions to create separate learning spaces and cut down on distractions as well as a reworked exterior ramp to make the room more navigable. The cost of the new area was around $600,000, but KSI has projected the entire revamping of the building will cost $3.3 million.
“This is phase one of three phases. Before we start coming out and starting any kind of capital campaign though, we’ve got to get our house in order and strategic planning has to be the first thing that we’re going to do under my watch, and I’ve already started having conversations with folks about getting folks to that goal, but it’s not going to be far. This first phase, as a couple of folks have said was from Community Reinvestment grant from the state of Delaware,” Chasanov said. “The next two phases, though, will definitely involve partnering with funders and with community supporters. We do look forward to doing that, having that work done. It’s not that we won’t get it done. We will get it done. That’s a promise on day seven I’m going to give to you right now. We will get this done. Because it’s what our participants deserve. So that’s my promise. I’m so excited about the turnout. I’m so excited so many staff members stuck around for this. We have just a wonderful staff here. A lot of folks have been so willing to come to me and talk to me and just talk about where they felt we should go and where the where the problems were. And it’s been a good it’s been a good seven days.”
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