Upton-Mendon Town Crier
By Michelle Sanford
When Dennis Rice first began his journey at Alternatives Unlimited Inc., now located in Whitinsville, he likely had no idea four decades after it was established, the nonprofit organization would go on to become a leading provider of services and programs for adults with developmental or psychiatric disabilities. However, that’s just what Alternatives has done, and now it’s celebrating its 40th Anniversary.
Rice, who has been serving as Alternative’s Executive Director since the late 1970s, has watched proudly as he and his staff have thrived in helping clients find jobs, live on their own, and develop relationships, thus allowing them to flourish in their community. “Initially, we started with 26 clients and now we’re serving more than 2,000,” said Rice.
Alternatives began with the goal of deinstitutionalizing mentally challenged people and setting up support services to help them acclimate to the world outside the institutions they had come to know. “We wanted them to have real homes, real jobs, real relationships,” said Rice.
Still, Rice admitted not everything at Alternatives was successful and therefore became a learning process. Initially the organization ran a sheltered workshop program where clients would work and earn money in a designated area but it kept them shielded from the community. “Now, looking back, the idea wasn’t so great,” he admitted. However, he said over the years, Alternatives has always tried to learn from its mistakes and continually improve.
Ten years ago, Alternatives renovated and moved into the Whitin Mill, which now serves as its headquarters containing its administrative offices, employment and residential programs and artisan studio spaces. Today, Alternatives also has residential programs in communities all over the state including Fitchburg, Leominster, Gardner, Milford, Wrentham, Plainville, and Worcester, among others.
Still Rice says it’s the dedicated staff at Alternatives that’s the key to their success. “They’re supporting some of the most vulnerable people in the community,” he said, acknowledging his employees have “the gift of making a difference in people’s lives.”
Over the past year, Alternatives has held various events to celebrate their 40 years. Rice and his staff have also been recognized by state and local officials for their achievements over the last four decades.