“They are so proud,” LeAnn Dyson says when she speaks of the adult clients who operate the Snack Shack on the campus of the Lonoke Exceptional Development Center in Lonoke.

And rightfully so — the Snack Shack was a booming success in its first year of operation, generating enough money to help purchase, among other things, life-saving automated external defibrillators for both LEDC campuses in Lonoke and Cabot.

Dyson is the activity coordinator at the center and oversees 25 Snack Shack employees who work together to keep things running smoothly.

As in any business operation, each person has a role to fill, whether it be stocking inventory, filling orders or making change.

In addition, Dyson says there are about 12 more Snack Shack helpers who go on Sam’s Club runs every other week to purchase the assorted candies, chips and sodas that line the Snack Shack’s shelves.

All of this amounts to hands-on job experience for the adults with developmental disabilities who come to the center to learn day-to-day living skills that will help them as active members in the community; this was the main goal of the shack when it opened last January.

Alderman Wendell Walker and LEDC bookkeeper Janna McKedy were involved in the initial development phase of the project and helped with the Snack Shack for the first six months or so as it gained momentum.

Since then, the number of LEDC clients working at the Snack Shack has doubled. Those who started out early in the operation are now managers who train the new employees as they come on board.

“They get a lot of enjoyment out of running it,” Walker said.

“Our hope is to get some of them involved in a job in the community,” McKedy said.

One Snack Shack employee, Wanda Bridges, has gotten a part-time job stocking the concession stand before baseball games at a local ballpark. As a Snack Shack employee, she takes orders and makes change.

The fact the Snack Shack is doing so well is an added bonus for everyone involved.

“If there’s any special need that the school needs, they can request the funds and then, as a team, we will vote on if an item can be purchased with the Snack Shack funds,” McKedy said.

McKedy said that, in addition to the AEDs, this year’s Snack Shack funds went towards the purchase of a set of metal folding chairs with a storage rack, vending machines and Snack Shack uniform t-shirts that were designed by Snack Shack employees.

The vending machines, including one at the Cabot location of the LEDC, are also operated by LEDC clients. Between the Snack Shack and the vending machines, the need for outside vending services has been eliminated, McKedy said.

Donations of snacks were a big part of what got the Snack Shack up and running, McKedy said. While it is more self-sufficient now, McKedy said donations of pre-packaged snacks and drinks are always welcome.

The enthusiasm for the project is evident as everyone gathers together for a group photo under the calm direction of Dyson. She eschews the idea of being in the picture herself.

I want it to be about them, she says. Because as she mentioned earlier, “They’re doing so well.”

Snack Shack hours are 8 a.m.- 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.-2 p.m. weekdays, and it is open to the public. It is located on the school’s Lonoke campus at 518 NE Front St.