After 38 years of service to the developmentally challenged, Heartland Opportunity Center in Oakhurst will close its doors Sept. 3 for the last time. The center's recycling center, located on the south-east corner of Crane Valley Road (426) and Fresno Flats Road (425B), that has been in operation for 25 years, will also close.
The decision was made by Arc of Fresno/Madera Counties, which took over Heartland's services July 1.
"It was a bittersweet decision for us," said Kristy Anderson, program manager for Arc Fresno/Madera Counties. "We want to thank the community for all their support of the recycling center and our program over the years."
Anderson said the decision was made due to a combination of things the economy, competition, and the upcoming retirement of Lahna Crabtree, recycling center job coach.
"Lahna worked for Heartland 38 years and it's time for her to start another chapter," Anderson said. "We consider her irreplaceable. She's been forced to be a one woman show and has been remarkable at that."
Crabtree said she kept postponing retirement and never anticipated the program being closed when she retired. She helped open Heartland in 1975 on a cold, rainy day in the bar of the Golden Chain Theatre. At that time, she said there was a big need for a program to help the developmentally challenged and they opened with 40 participants.
Since then, Heartland has moved a number of times. It was located next to Raley's for about 20 years and has been at its current location for about five years.
However, during that time Heartland lost some clients. Crabtree said most were lost when White Oaks a home for the developmentally challenged in Oakhurst closed in 2003. Now Heartland of Oakhurst's program participants are down to four men.
"Our main concern is those four guys," Anderson said. "They are a great bunch and that's honestly the hardest part. We're hoping to facilitate new opportunities for them."
However, Heartland participant Morgan Morningstar is concerned about his future. A resident of Yosemite Lakes Park, he said even if he's offered a job at Heartland in Madera, he doesn't know he can afford to drive that far.
"I wish they would fight more to keep it (recycling center) open," Morningstar said.
Bob Gerszewski, who has been at the recycling center since 1988, said he's enjoyed working at the center and having Crabtree as his boss.
"I enjoy doing the bottles and cans, meeting customers and pretty girls and seeing the nice cars," Bob said, with a big smile he is known for.
"It's kind of the end of an era," Crabtree said. "We've worked hard for all these years but sometimes life just changes."
Sitting in the office of the recycling center, Crabtree fondly remembered all the good times she's shared with the participants movies, bowling, visits to the casino, and church spaghetti dinners.
"We've been such a close family, and it's been nothing but a blessing," Crabtree said. "My family grew up with these guys. It's not too often you have a job for all those years that you enjoy and look forward to come to every day."
Heartland will host a yard sale from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28 and Friday, Aug. 30 at their facility at the corner of Road 426 and 425B.