BAWAC residents make their ‘pitch,’ celebrate retiring founder at Florence Y’alls baseball game

By Andy Furman
NKy Tribune Reporter

Mark Thomas and Gregg Austing waited 50-plus years to finally make their pitch.

They did it – and they did it together – in front of a sold-out crowd Friday evening at Thomas More University Stadium, prior to the Florence Y’alls hosting the New York Boulders in a Frontier League baseball game.

Thomas is 70 – and Austing is 73 – and both are 50-year residents at BAWAC, Inc. The non-profit organization celebrated the duo – and BAWAC, Inc. founder and president, the retiring Ken Schmidt, with some 150 clients and staff at the ballpark.

(From left) Mark Thomas, Gregg Austing and Ken Schmidt at Friday’s game (Photo by Andy Furman)

“I’ve been practicing,” Austing told the Northern Kentucky Tribune.

BAWAC, Inc. – staff clients and all – were selling their image – and mission – to the baseball lovers in attendance.

BAWAC, Inc. develops and maximizes the vocational potential and quality of life of adult persons with disabilities or other barriers to employment, through the flexible integration of counseling, assessment, life and work skills training, job placement, support services and employment in a therapeutic or community-based remunerative work environment.

Oops, we forgot to mention two half-century BAWAC, Inc. clients, were given the chance to show their skills at a baseball game – and toss out the first pitch.

Both men received BAWAC, Inc. service awards in March – but this night, for sure, will be remembered more than any kind of award.

Mark Thomas arrived at BAWAC, Inc., some six-months prior to his buddy – Gregg Austing.
In fact, Thomas was one of the originals – even before then new BAWAC, Inc., was constructed in Florence.

“We grew up together,” he said in his wheelchair, prior to his pitching performance.

And they work together.

Thomas and Austing have worked in sorting, labeling, production as well as inspection.

Ken Schmidt, the Y’alls mascot and Gregg Austing leave the field. (Photo by Andy Furman)

And yes, retirement is right around the corner for these baseball rookies. They’ll be moving to the BAWAC, Inc,. Life Transitions Program.

Thomas has already moved in – ever so slightly. It’s a program, according to BAWAC, Inc, officials, so clients may remain with friends.

Many clients arrive at BAWAC, Inc. from high school – and develope relationships for life.

BAWAC, Inc. Community Rehabilitation Center began in March 1973 as a unit of the Northern Kentucky Mental Health-Mental Retardation Regional Board, with support and assistance from the Boone Country Association for Retarded Citizens.

BAWAC, Inc. was established to serve people with disabilities or other barriers to employment through rehabilitation and employment opportunities. The vehicle for rehabilitation is the work itself. BAWAC, Inc. also serves the business and industrial community by providing an appropriately skilled workforce, production, and manufacturing service.

The man who created, founded and is the now retiring President – Ken Schmidt – had some words on his Ken’s Korner, which appeared on BAWAC, Inc’s, web-page: “For the past 50 years I have had the privilege of working with people who are committed and who work to ensure that BAWAC, Inc. continues to improve so that the individuals we serve can reach their highest potential.

“I will greatly miss witnessing our clients grow and evolve by refining their communication skills, work skills, socialization skills, and comradery. But it is time for me to turn over the reins and entrust a contemporary leader to carry BAWAC Inc’s mission into the future.”

The only downside to the evening’s festivities – The Y’alls dropped a 7-4 decision to the New York Boulders.

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