by Paul Flemming
Syntex is making a sow's ear into a silk purse and beating it into plowshares to boot, to mix metaphors.
The sow's ear was an inventory buildup and the need to stop production for a time. The silk purse is a solution to keep valued employees rather than lay them off and possibly lose them. That solution is the plowshare of community service at five different United Way member organizations around Springfield.
"We've had a production slowdown, and we decided to do it all at once, shut down the plant," said Mike Young, senior accountant at Syntex in Springfield. The local plant on Bennett Street makes bulk pharmaceuticals.
"When you're dealing with employees as good as ours, you don't want to lose them," Young said. The plant's management decided to keep its employees on for the 2 1/2-month shutdown that began in July and is projected to run through the middle of September.
The bulk of the plant's 129 employees are performing routine projects at the plant and undergoing training. But around 25 Syntex employees are out in the community working at such places as the Salvation Army Thrift Store, Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield and in the Special Olympics office. Seven are working at local Habitat for Humanity building sites.
And more than 10 are working at the Family Violence Center, renovating a new building the agency received in June. Young said the community-service idea came from Syntex Controller Ruth Shryack.
"It's really kind of surprised me; they're having a lot of fun," Young said. Those working on the Habitat and Family Violence Center projects, in particular, have enjoyed the experience as a change of pace. "We may have to pry them away to get them back to work," he said.
The new building for the Family Violence Center is its third, all on East Cherry. The former Kimbrough Manor, at 519 E. Cherry, was purchased for the center by Bee Payne-Stewart, a member of its board of directors.
The Family Violence Center provides housing and services for women and children escaping domestic violence. The 22-year-old agency moved in 1997 into Harmony House, which doubled its capacity. The center averages 67 women and children per night in its 26 private rooms and seven transitional apartments.
Stella Harrison, executive director of the Family Violence Center, said the new building will give the organization much-needed space.
"Right now, we couldn't add new services unless they sat on the front porch," Harrison said.
Administrative services and a "closet" of clothes, household items and furniture for clients will be moved into the new building, dubbed Harmony's Annex. In addition, possible new services, such as a legal aide staff member's office and counseling services, will be housed in Harmony's Annex.
And by moving administrative offices into the new building, the space freed up at 525 E. Cherry will become a 24-hour child care center for clients. Daytime child care is now available, but the extended hours will allow mothers flexibility in seeking employment, Harrison said.
Harrison said it was the right timing when Young called asking if there was work for Syntex employees to do at the center. The then-vacant Kimbrough Manor suffered extensive water damage several years ago when the sprinkler system froze and burst. In addition, the building's interior is being renovated to suit the uses to which the Family Violence Center will put it.
Syntex workers have been working on Harmony's Annex for about a month, Harrison said. As many as 12 have painted, built a new stairway, installed ceiling tiles and cleaned up all the landscaping.
"They just laugh and have a good time. It's wonderful to have them," Harrison said.
"It's a lot better than laying people off and running a chance of losing them," Young said of the Syntex employees.
Bee Payne-Stewart (in blue) hobnobs with Syntex employees who are renovating Harmony Annex, the building she donated to the Family Violence Center.[[In-content Ad]]