Chapter 5: Continuation of Ministry and Work Supporting People with Disabilities in Community
7:10:32:14 - 7:15:08:17
Q: After your role as deputy secretary, can you tell me what you did next? Did you stay in Pennsylvania?
A: No, um, it, you know, when you're, when you burn your bridges and when you don't plan ahead early, you do face some transitional issues and uh, so I did have a period of time where I was dealing with the question, what do I do next? One of those was revisiting the issue of ministry. You know, "Lord, should I be going back in this particular direction?" That was a very legitimate question. Um, but one of the things I did, I uh, connected with the Connecticut ARC and they were going through litigation. PILCOP was involved with them on their Manchester facility which was their large institution and so I went up there as a consultant for a period of time, engaged with them in some of the issues around the institutional development and what was happening there. Uh, the interaction with the, the state director of mental retardation services, since I knew that whole group by that time. Uh, and aiding and assisting some of the people that the ARC had engaged for the develop community services. So that was an interim kind of thing. A little unsettling because it wasn't clear. And a big commute from Harrisburg to Hartford each week. But then I had been in contact with Ohio and the Ohio Office of Mental Retardation, which was far but rather than a part of a Department of Welfare, they were a Department of Mental Retardation. So they had gotten singular attention. And they were looking for a regional, a deputy director, of the department of mental retardation, and they had an opening in the northeast section, Akron, Youngstown, [and counties] surrounding Cleveland. Cleveland was a region onto itself, but we had interaction with them. Uh, two major institutions there Apple Creek Developmental Center, which is south of Akron and Youngstown developmental center, right outside of Youngstown. The Youngstown Developmental Center was a newer facility like Woodhaven. Kind of laid out like them, a small community, a small, smaller buildings and so on. Supposedly more contemporary. Uh, but still an institution and institutional issues. But good leadership and so, one of the things we did was get a good number of people out of Apple Creek, a large institution and had them, if they were from the Youngstown community and immediate surround area, get them transferred to that facility. And then worked on the development of community services for residential services in the community. So we had a, a lot of people placed in those counties of Summit County, Stark County, Medina County, uh, and surrounding areas. Columbiana, Ashtabula. Ashtabula is more popular today because Urban Meyers, the coach of the Ohio State University is from Ashtabula. There you go, a little tidbit. But, uh, that was a good experience in that area and that was the Rhodes Administration, which was a Republican administration, so it was a little easier for me to acclimate politically. Uh, but then Dick Celeste, a democrat came into the governor's role. A younger governor, he was progressive and played a leading role. I stuck with them for a while. But they had change of leadership and then I had, I had philosophical and programmatic issues. With the leadership of the, of the department and so I separated from them. And on sound basis, and so on.
7:15:47:26 - 7:25:55:14
Q: Um, you moved to the private sector, though, still working on behalf of people with disabilities, and I wonder if you can tell me a little bit about some of your ventures at that point?
A: Right. And in 1985, of course I was then confronted with looking for something else to do. Uh, and once again, you know, you look at the various venues and so on and so forth, and ministry came up again. But that didn't seem to be the answer I had. I had served, uh, in a large church out it Akron called Chapel in University Park, and it had about ten thousand members. They had a choir of about 300. And Lois and I, my wife, were interested in signing in choir, so we joined the choir, but then I became chaplain of the choir, so you had a congregation of 300 people that you relate to and it was kind of a fun experience during that time as well. But, separating from the Department of Mental Retardation, I came in contact with a gentleman who originally was from Ohio. His father was a pastor in Ohio, and he had gone to Massachusetts and he had developed uh, programs for uh, emotionally disturbed children and developmentally disabled individuals, and he had a program in Massachusetts in the Boston area and other parts of Massachusetts. It was kind of an emerging program and starting with a very good philosophy. The philosophy was to, to engage people in the community who are willing to take an individual into their home, comply with licensure requirements so that you're safe and giving adequate services to the person, and then you know, recruiting such people. Screening them, uh, and taking them through the process of licensure within the given department in the state. And then, training the person and putting them in relationship to a social work type where that's a person who's trained in psychology or special education or social work, or whatever. But the training, it's commensurate with dealing with people and engaging them and helping them. And that social worker type would have a case load of eight to ten people. Uh, and would work with them constantly. That was their, the job. To Be in the home, to be there developing the individual service plan, to anticipate, because the person has these behaviors, these habits, these activities, anticipate what you do, when you see them arising or what have you. And, being available at all hours. That if the person's in distress, they can call that social worker. So it was very intensive kind of program in addition to the social worker type and case manager type. You had a recruiter who was constantly recruiting people. So you were moving ahead, getting, getting people prepared. Uh, and then you built a hierarchy. You have a program director over X number of social workers, once you get going in your program, and the recruiter in that complex and then another group over here with a program director and so on. And just developing programs like that. One by one. Uh, so we talked and liked the program, I always had the attitude "smaller is better", etc., etc, - Eleanor Elkin used that phrase constantly. And it is. And some people say, well I couldn't handle my individual within my home, how can somebody else do that in their home, and so on? Well, unfortunately, governments don't always encourage support service to go into a natural home. You have to break down and fall apart and go into some other setting before state governments will engage themselves in that person. Kind of a, unlikely solution, and hopefully in time, people will begin to see the importance. They are with aging, sending people home healthcare people into homes with the aging, to enable them to stay in their private homes and so on and so forth. Why that wouldn't be true in cases of disabilities is well, in fact, you probably wouldn't need as much case management in the natural home as you would in a setting where people are coping anew with the issues. So we agreed to do that in Ohio so my wife and I gathered around our dining room table and telephone, and started putting out advertisements and engaging people in the community and working with state government whom we knew everybody in the system at that point to develop a contract and to sell them on the concept and so on. And got initial beginnings. I engaged a contract um, fairly rapidly, started placing people in home, and developing a staff to do that. And fairly quickly moved off the dining room table uh, made these arrangements and set up an office and so on. And initially I hired my wife to be my secretary and got on the way and ground out the contracts and so forth. But it wasn't a long period of time that we had two or three case managers types, social workers, and engaged a recruiter and a program director and then expanded that from the Akron area, had offices in Akron and then we developed an office in Cleveland, developed an office in Youngstown, and before long we had uh, 80 - 100 individuals in place and so on. And things were moving along enough, then, that we went ahead and engaged a person to be the state director for a person who had good credentials and abilities to take up that development then and to further develop that program. And then I associated with the original organization as the National Vice President for Developmental Services and Marketing, and so we went to South Carolina, established a program there. You know, you engage people who are in the field. Uh, get them to agree to a little bit a sweat-equity uh, but then get them into the system and again, having been a deputy secretary, you know, the head of the program in a state, you know all the state directors. So I knew the director in South Carolina. ?? that we hired him into the organization as a director of services and he had his doctorate in the field and a very capable guy. And we then went to Florida and established a program in Miami area, in Fort Lauderdale, in those areas. And, uh, which met the needs not only of developmentally disabled but also the emotional disturbed, and so we gained ground in there. Um, I knew the director of Florida, had him invite me to Tallahassee, he brought all his regional people in and I had a captive audience to sell them on the concept and so on. And then we were able to proceed and develop programs there. And we went to Arizona. You know, again, we had some fellow who had been in Florida transferred to Arizona as the state director, so we followed him and went out and engaged his people there and uh, and uh, established a program in Arizona. And went into California, developed a program there. The director of the program in California had originally been the secretary of commerce under Governor Regan. So, you know, large state, very capable guy, ultimately we hired him into the national organization. The organization is National Mentor, Inc. And uh, but we developed programs in California, again, he was gracious enough, well he was director of the MR program to bring me in and meet with all his regional people up and down the state of California, and so we, we started the programs there. And we went into a number of different states. When we left the organization, I think we were in probably in 15, 16 states, and had a budget about 220 million, and in these 14 years since I left them I think they're in the category of a billion dollar services and are around the country and so on. Which is significant. Other significance of it, is it's a four profit program but maintains that sense of quality and efficiency and so on. So they're able to do very well and survive very well and provide very good programs.
7:25:55:14 - 7:28:15:28
Q: And what's been the benefit for people in those living situations? What, what have been some of the benefits you've found?
A: Yeah, we got, we identified the people who provide the service as mentors. We, we're strong in our emphasis to them. We don't want you to be parents. We want you to bond, we don't want you to be parents or parent like or parent surrogate. We want you to be a mentor; we want you to be objective with the person. We want you to know that there is a plan for this person. You help them to integrate into the community. You guide them in those areas. Far better to go out to dinner with one person, rather than having a van pull up with eight people stumbling out and going into a restaurant. It'd become rather obvious. Whereas you have one person who has some issues, the other people probably have issues, too, but the one person has significant issues, is less obvious in that kind of a situation. It's just one of the elements of the normalization of services in that sense. And we had some very severely disabled people, uh, involved in eh program. One fellow I recall, had a habit of eating plastic forks and spoons and so. Did very well in the home, but every once in a while had to take him to the hospital to extract things from him, which, and I you know, I don't know the ultimate outcome there. Hopefully they were ultimately able to overcome that, that issue for him and so on. But some other cases which were behaviorally were very challenging and yet some very resilient people who worked with them and, and um, helped them through. Failures? Yeah. You know, you anticipate that some people just aren't, find out that this just is beyond them, but your following it close enough and either doing respite and recruiting ahead so that you see something that maybe fit better and so on. So it has that kind of dynamic and it had some very healthy aspects of it and so on. But that's, um, I separated with them in 1998 so it's been 14 years now that uh, we've been doing other things.
7:28:15:28 - 7:30:41:02
Q: Still pretty incredible it started around your dining room table.
A: Yeah. One of the things I mentioned when we talked before is that um, though I had worked in the field quite a period of time in the early 1980s when we were having grandchildren come into our life, uh, two of our grandsons are probably what some people define as fragile X. It's not a deeply definable thing, but difficulty to deal with abstracts. Maybe some type of autistic resemblence there. Uh, but, um, they both have developed very great social skills. The one is just loved by people because of is personality. They both are working, they're working minimal hours, like 20 hours a week. They have their SSI. They're in housing that is Section 8 housing [and each has his own apartment]. But a beautiful campus. It's not for disabled people. It's for the community and there are aging and there are young couples and you know, it' a great mixed campus loaded with rhododendron bushes all over and very beautiful in the spring. Uh, very adequate apartments and uh, they do well. And the one, one young man, they're 30 and 28 now, but the one young man has his license and owns an uh, uh, Chevrolet SUV. And the other one is been riding his bike viciously but is close to getting his license. Whether he'll get a vehicle or not, I don't know. But, uh, they're engaging. They make some stumbles along the way. You have to realize that they'll possibly exploitable because, you know, they're more easily manipulated than a lot of people are. But pretty savy nonetheless. And the older they get, I think the more savvy they are. And so on. So they're doing well and it's been good to see. So they benefited from a lot of things that we had something to do with in the past and that's been gratifying. Yep.
More Interview Chapters
- Early Life and Career
- Work with PARC
- Right to Education
- Closure of Pennhurst, Development of Residential Services, Role as Deputy Secretary
- YOU ARE HERE: Continuation of Ministry and Work Supporting People with Disabilities in Community
- Life After Retirement, Reflections on Career
About Peter Polloni
Minister, Former Deputy Director, Pennsylvania Office of Mental Retardation
Arc, ICF/ID, Institutions, Life-sharing, PARC, Pennhurst, Right to Education