GREENFIELD — Scattered about in their meeting space at Greenfield’s Shares Inc., where people with disabilities work with professionals in assembly, packaging and light manufacturing, nine sets of eyes follow the spiraling water vortex Robin Jeffries is using to demonstrate how tornadoes slither and wind.
One of her students, Lyndsey H. – Shares protects the last names of its participants to ensure their privacy – knows full well what a nasty funnel cloud can do.
“I watched ‘Twister’ many times,” she tells Jeffries, who’s teaching the class about weather this day. “They can really chase you.”
Jeffries explains that though tornadoes might at times appear to be malevolent monsters holding a personal grudge “they really don’t have a mind of their own.”
But Lyndsey is having none of it.
“Sometimes they do,” she replies and immediately returns to reading the class materials.
Jeffries, a former special education teacher at Greenfield-Central High School, is one of seven instructors who teach a broad range of life skills to a portion of the facility’s 141 daily participants, who range from post-high school to retirement age. Shares’ facility is on South State Street.
The living skills program covers various topics ranging from academic, socialization, recreational, home-life and housekeeping skills to decision making and self management, said Laura Strachman, Shares living skills coordinator.
The classes are tailored to participants’ various ability levels and are all voluntary, Strachman said.
“It’s up to them,” she said. “They’re adults.”
When not in class, participants can work in the production facility where they are paid based on their output. There’s no paycheck for wandering around or falling asleep at the wheel.
“This is not simulated work,” Strachman said.
Shares’ Greenfield production includes several packaging operations, including those for CDs and DVDs.
For Jeffries, her Masters living skills class is a continuous adventure in learning, with no way to predict the comments or questions spawned by the subject of tornadoes – or anything else, for that matter.
“This is the best job of my life,” Jeffries said. “They have so much to offer.
“I feel like everyone here has such different interests, and I try to find that thing that interests each of them.”
On the wall just above the students’ heads, a painted inscription reads, “Just like snowflakes, we’re all unique in our own beautiful way.”
To meet her students’ unique needs, Jeffries said she’s always looking to augment the classroom experience with guest lectures and speakers, which allows her to expose the students to a wider variety of experiences than would be possible if they had to travel.
Classes do break out for various outings. One of the most popular is the library, where students learn library skills.
On one outing to a local pizzeria where students learned the art of pizza throwing, Caleb W., a slim young man with a wry smile, recounted how things didn’t go quite as planned.
“I threw my dough up and it didn’t come down,” he said.
Unique in its own way perhaps, but Caleb’s experience strikes to the common humanity as well.
Sometimes, sooner or later, no matter how well it’s thrown, no matter who throws it, the pizza dough just doesn’t come down.