GRAPHIC: Visionary Voices logo
Institute on Disabilities at Temple University
Interviews    Archives    Performance    ABOUT    DONATE       


Marsha Blanco chapter 1


Chapter 1: Background (you are here)
Chapter 2: Early Career, Parent Reaction to Conditions at Polk State School and Hospital
Chapter 3: Creating Community Supports
Chapter 4: Marsha Becomes Executive Director of Allegheny County ARC
Chapter 5: Advocating to Close Institutions, Pennhurst Lawsuit
Chapter 6: Closure of Western Center
Chapter 7: Federal Mandate for Early Intervention, ARC Becomes ACHIEVA
Chapter 8: Working to Continually Innovate
Chapter 9: Reflections on Career

transcript - entire interview

Marsha Blanco Interview (Word)

transcript - current chapter

08:08:30:28 - 08:09:09:20

Lisa: My name is Lisa Sonneborn. I'm interviewing Marsha Blanco at the Doubletree Hotel in Pittsburgh, PA on July 25th, 2013. Also present is our videographer Ginger Jolly. And Marsha, do I have your permission to begin our interview?

Marsha: You certainly do.

Lisa: Can you please tell me...

Marsha: Got it, yeah. I'm Marsha Blanco. I'm president and CEO of ACHIEVA which is the affiliate in greater Pittsburgh of the ARC of the United States.

Chapter 1: Background

08:09:11:10 - 08:09:22:15

Lisa: And Marsha can you tell me when and where you were born?

Marsha: I was born in Central Pennsylvania in 1951, Clearfield County; one of the more rural parts of Pennsylvania.

08:09:24:00 - 08:11:54:00

Lisa: And growing up did you have any experience with disability either in your family or in your community?

Marsha: Yeah oddly I... I grew up in, again, a rural part of Pennsylvania with all of my family members living together on what was once farmland and from my earliest recollection that I believe was from infancy I visited about once a month my grandmother who was mentally ill and who was institutionalized at Warren State Hospital. It was quite a drive for our family by my family would put us all in the car. We would take the long trek up to Warren State Hospital to visit my grandmother and my recollections from early childhood are quite clear. That was one of fear. We could never visit my grandmother in the bedrooms or ward where she lived. Instead we had to wait in long hallways and the nurses or aides would come out and I remember a large, circular rings of keys that they would wear and I remember my mother being upset. My mother was quite a seamstress and would send clothing to my grandmother and I remember my mother's disappointment in that my grandmother would come out in someone else's clothing with their name on the back. A shabby housedress, and I remember my mother being so disappointed. We would take my grandmother out for the day. I didn't have much of an ability to communicate with her because she spoke primarily Ukrainian and I wondered even at maybe 8 or 9 or 10 years of age how it was that people at the institution were able to communicate with her. Wondered if she was able to express her needs to the staff people there. So you could say that I in some ways I shared with folks - I was probably not a red diaper baby but an ARC diaper baby from early, early in my life.

08:11:54:25 - 08:12:42:05

Lisa: Was disability something that your family talked about? Did they talk about your grandmother's disability at home?

Marsha: They did, they did. We had an understanding. I had an understanding at an early age that my grandmother was in this home because she had experienced a great deal of difficulty. Also within our family, my aunt had a sister who had significant developmental disabilities and Palmer was like just a big part of all of our families and I've always regretted... she did not have...she had a wonderful life with family members but there were no community supports or services for Palmer and that certainly as I became more mature and decided this was going to be my field that I looked back on with regret.

08:12:54:20 - 08:15:07:00

Lisa: So you say you did decide that certainly these familiar experiences would influence your choice of career? What did you decide you wanted to do? Where did you go to school? What did you study?

Marsha: Well I went to Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Actually, I was very fortunate in that the federal government, when I was 13 and 14 years of age, when I say a rural school district I think I shared with you, Lisa, that I grew up in a several room school. Mostly in my class were my cousins, sisters, and brothers, and my salvation was the, the book mobile that would allow us to take out 14 books every two weeks and as you can imagine if you were in third grade and your teacher's still covering for first graders and second graders; boredom can be a problem but I was 14 or 14, the federal government was identifying what they felt were students of promise, I suppose, and so I did begin to attend enrichment classes and classes at Penn State University and that was an eye opener for me. It was a little awkward when we were on campus, because I was quite young. Nonetheless I think that that helped me to understand that there was a bigger world out there than Janesville, Pennsylvania. So yeah I went on to Indiana University of Pennsylvania; studied psychology thinking that I wanted to be a professional in the mental health field but upon graduation I went up to Elk County, Pennsylvania and my first job was that of directing a pre-school for little ones with developmental delays and disabilities and I just fell in love with it. At that point I decided that my career should be working with people with developmental disabilities and I just love the children, I love their families, and it just changed my trajectory a little.

Share this page:
Follow us:
GRAPHIC: visit our blog    GRAPHIC: Like us on Facebook.      GRAPHIC: Follow us on Twitter.