Subscribe for 17¢ / day

Grant Harrington is covered in sawdust. Safety glasses perched on his forehead and ear protectors hanging around his neck, he is a man ready to get back to work.

Obligingly, Harrington takes time away from his job in the woodworking shop at COR Enterprises to visit about his work.

COR is marking its 38th anniversary of providing services to persons with disabilities in Billings and the surrounding area.

"Wait till you see me in action," he says.

Harrington, 24, graduated in 2004 from Senior High - he's still a serious Bronc fan - and after going through other programs and training is now firmly ensconced as an employee at COR. Like an employee in any professional wood shop, he is held to high standards for safety.

"Or you could lose a finger," he says.

His employment history includes working with a Billings Improvement District clean team downtown.

"We used to help pick up trash off the sidewalks, they get so filthy," he says, sawdust from his black gloves fluttering like confetti as he flared his hands in a gesture to match the energy in his voice.

Harrington is high functioning and exceedingly willing to work, says Heather Torrence Mattson, community relations specialist for COR.

"I try 100 percent," Harrington chimes in.

She grins at Harrington and says, "Everybody needs enthusiastic employees who want to get it done."

Harrington interrupts to remind Torrence Mattson that he is taking time off in May to see his brother graduate from college. He also talks about going to Bronc sports and skiing with Eagle Mount in the winter.

"Grant's got a very typical young adult life" filled with work, hobbies and socializing, she says.

He commutes on the bus, getting to work a little after 9 a.m. and home a bit after 4 p.m.

Is he tired after a long day?

"Are you kidding?" he says. "I am completely ready to go home and kick back and watch a little TV."

Like many of his colleagues at COR, Harrington is learning a skilled trade. He could continue to work at COR for the long run, Torrence Mattson said, or work in the community.

COR clients, who sometimes have a job coach or employee specialist help them attain employee standards in the community, are well-versed on their employee rights and are always paid, said the agency's CEO Tony Cline.

Many clients use the money to supplement their Social Security income, Torrence Mattson says, but there is so much more to that paycheck.

"It really gives people a shot a dignity and all those things we all want," she says.

Harrington's story is the type of client success that will be celebrated during COR's fourth annual Gala and Auction. Proceeds from the event will be used to help fund building a new facility for COR Enterprises.

The current headquarters, on South 24th Street, is a series of interconnected blue buildings. To the unfamiliar, the facility is a bit mazelike and confusing. The rooms are both functional and comfortable. They include the concrete-floored work rooms for mailing services on one end and the woodshop with its loud, whirring machinery on the other.

When he isn't doing woodwork, Harrington helps by sweeping sawdust.

"Just doing a little cleanup," he says as the gang saw was readied to cut another pallet of construction stakes.

In between the industrial areas are spaces for COR's document shredding service with its big bins ready for recycling. A room about the size of a two-car garage is where clients open crates of expired soda pop from local distributors and pour it down a drain.

Tucked between the administrative offices and the work areas is the "active choices" program. It's in a cheery room with colorful client art but no natural light. Clients here focus on activities like crafts and community outings. It is also for the clients who have more intense personal needs.

The lunch room is long and narrow and small enough that clients must eat in two shifts. It's still the best place about work, Harrington said, because he gets "a little social interaction around lunch."

COR's staff and board looked into remodeling but the effort and cost were overwhelming, Torrence Mattson says. The building has to be disability accessible, and is, but because the floors are uneven in places there are still hazards for those who are mobility impaired.

A new building would be designed to be roomy and dignified, with high levels of accessibility, lighting, ventilation and overall safety, Torrence Mattson says.

"We want it to be a place that works for everybody where we can all be together," she says. "It will be low frills but accommodating and safe for everyone."

Other benefits of a new building are that additional space would allow COR to expand its services.

"There are lots of great ideas, we just don't have the room to implement them," she says.

Many of the services COR provides are funded by the state and there is a long waiting list for vocational and residential clients, Torrence Mattson says. On occasion, more funding is made available so clients can be served, "we want to always be available," she says.

NorthWestern Energy has donated $5,000 toward the new facility and joined First Interstate Bank Foundation and Wal-Mart West End as corporate donors.