Community, Cottage Grove

Buck Center still providing opportunities

Elisabeth “Lisl” Waechter founded the Pearl Buck School for children with developmental disabilities in 1953 in Creswell. She did this because there was not yet special education offered in public schools.

The school was named after Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winning author Pearl S. Buck, who had a daughter with a developmental disability.

Six years later, with the help of the Emerald Empire Kiwanis Club and many others, Pearl Buck’s new school building in Eugene was built.

Although she passed away in 2001, Waechter’s values are still influencing Pearl Buck. The center’s programs strive to provide the support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities need to be empowered, independent members of society.

Pearl Buck client Kevin Mullins at a production job site.

Pearl Buck Center annually supports about 700 children and adults with disabilities in the Eugene-Springfield area through its five programs: Preschool, Life Enhancing Activities Program (LEAP), Supported Living, Community Employment, and Vocational Academy.

While each program is different, all of them are intended to support people with disabilities. For example, the preschool program allows for children aged 2-5 whose parents have limitations to join a tuition-free, wraparound program, and the community employment program connects local business owners, who are looking for reliable employees, to be matched with Pearl Buck clients after being pre-screened to ensure the business receives someone whose skills and interests match the employers’ needs. 

Pearl Buck Center scheduling and development specialist Todd Keiser said, while the center is based in Eugene, it reaches clientele in surrounding communities like Cottage Grove and Pleasant Hill.

Client comments

Eric Nilsen, a 50-year-old client with Down syndrome, was connected to Pearl Buck so he could have a direct support person with him as he works at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen in Cottage Grove. Although he has volunteered in the Cottage Grove High School and Harrison Elementary School cafeterias, Popeyes is his first paid job.

Nilsen’s mom, Janine, 72, said she has noticed her son shine at work with the assistance from Matt Olsen, Pearl Buck staff member, who she called “phenomenal.”

“(Matt) recognizes where Eric’s strengths are and how he can do a good job at work. Like, Eric likes routine. Matt just observed him, watched him, and has guided him so he can fulfill the tasks he needs to do at work,” Janine said. “That’s really made the difference and has given Eric a lot more confidence at work.”

Having been a single mom to Eric since around the time he was born, Janine was nearly brought to tears when mulling over what it means to her to see her son thrive in a work environment.

“I’m gonna start crying because it makes me feel so good. It’s just wonderful to see my son so happy and fulfilled,” she said. “He loves to get up and go to work, and he’s welcomed by everybody at Popeyes, and they are very supportive.”

Next week’s barbecue

Pearl Buck is hosting its annual barbecue June 26 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. in its back parking lot at 3690 W. 1st Ave. 

There will be games, food, prizes, and music. Some activities to look forward to are the staff-run dunk tank which will allow Pearl Buck clients to dunk the staff and the pieing of executive director Stephanie Beeck.

Above is supported living client Breawna Reed, who is showing off some freshly made brownies.

According to Keiser, Pearl Buck is often unable to take large groups out into the community because some individuals have needs that staff would be unable to meet, such as providing one on one support. He said this barbecue is a celebratory event that focuses more so on the adult clients. It allows for people in Pearl Buck programs to gather in a large group with a “company picnic feel without putting anybody at risk of not following their protocols for their care and safety needs.”

“We’re trying to give everybody an opportunity to just have a good time together and socialize,” Keiser said.

Although Keiser said the barbecue is only for Pearl Buck staff, its clients, and their families, donations are accepted through personal and corporate donations. Other ways to give to the Pearl Buck Center are listed on its website.



View this profile on Instagram


The Chronicle (@thechronicle1909) • Instagram photos and videos