Art and work join for members of Valley Sheltered Workshop

While touring the Batavia Public Library Friday, a group of about 20 people turned a corner and gasped when they saw a familiar sight.

Displayed on the wall in a corner behind the shelves of books were works of art – pictures that until recently were still being created by that very group from Batavia-based Valley Sheltered Workshop.

The display had been arranged as a surprise, explained Kristen Zambo, promotions service manager at the library, for the workshop members who thought they were just taking a tour of the library.

“They didn’t know they were going to be displayed,” Zambo said.

It gave Hugo Saltijeral, sheltered workshop executive director, a chance to congratulate the members and explain to them what it means.

“You are, what do they call it, on exhibit,” Saltijeral said. “You’re exhibitors now.”

It made for a fun outing for the workers, er, exhibitors who come to the Valley Sheltered Workshop for a combination of a job, some socialization and some just plain fun.

“They’re not coming in for just a paycheck, it’s to have to have and enhance – the same as you or I – a purpose,” Saltijeral said.

Valley Sheltered Workshop has been providing that place to people with disabilities since 1966, when it was established by the Rev. Gilbert Johnstone.

Currently, it serves 21 people primarily from the Tri-Cities, although it also includes North Aurora, Elburn, Sugar Grove and even Elgin. It is one of 114 sheltered workshops serving about 11,000 people throughout Illinois, but it is one of the few entirely funded through private donations, without any government help.

The workshop partners with local businesses that provide work for the members. Those companies – which workshop people refer to as customers or clients – include Doctor’s Data, Illinois Backflow Prevention, the Illinois Railway Museum, the Kane County Cougars, LK Sales and Marketing, Inc., The Homecourt Real Estate, Turf Anderson Sales, R. Bach and Associates, Time Pilot Corporation and Valley Industrial Association.

But as Saltijeral pointed out, it’s not all about work, and Friday was more about the fun of getting to create art, display it and possibly even sell it.

“It’s a place where you belong,” Saltijeral said. “You get to socialize with people who are on the same path as you.”

The artwork will be on display at the library through January, then be on display at nearby Limestone coffeehouse on Wilson Street in Batavia throughout February.

The pieces of art will be on sale with the money benefiting the artist and the workshop. Any remaining art will be sold at the pancake breakfast fundraiser for the workshop, a longtime event in Batavia that will be back for the first time this year since 2019.

The May 7 event gives people a chance to see the workshop and meet people associated with it. Workshop officials also give the public that chance beginning in the spring and running through the fall when they open the facility for lunch between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on the last Friday of every month.

Saltijeral said officials are working to get public participation back after the closings and sequestrations of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Valley Sheltered Workshop really is a hidden gem of Batavia,” Saltijeral said.

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