Chapter 6: Life After Retirement, Reflections on Career
7:30:41:02 - 7:31:55:01
Q: Since your retirement, have you returned to your roots in the church. I know you've said often you've thought about revisiting there. Have you gone back there?
A: Oh, I've been active in church life. Kind of headed up senior ministries dealing with uh, people who are getting up there. Uh, we have a monthly breakfast for the senior fellowship and have 20 to 30 people come out and, because of the contact I've had in the past, I'm able to bring in a wide range of speakers to them. Some from the spiritual community. But some from the community. You know, the director of senior services at the local YMCA speaking to seniors of some pretty practical issues and so on. We've had, we have a seminary nearby so we access some of the professors at the seminary to come and speak to the folks on some unique subjects related to contemporary life today and spiritual aspects, and so on.
7:31:55:01 - 7:33:07:24
7:33:08:24 - 7:44:59:00
A: In 1999, shortly after we had relocated to Pennsylvania, we came down to be close to our teenage grandchildren at that time, and to kind of participate in their sporting activities and other things and so on, since we had been up in Massachusetts years previous, closer to that group, uh, and of course what happens is they grow up and move out. So, but we're still close with our son and his wife and the grandchildren are in various phases of career development. One of the grandsons is at Jefferson finishing up his program in nursing and we have a granddaughter who completed her education in Westchester in Special Ed, early education rather, and is teaching in the Philadelphia School District and we have another grandson who um, graduated from university and is working for the railroad now. The, uh, interesting direction. And the younger grandson had gotten married and had two children so we have two great-grands there nearby, so we're able to enjoy the familial relations here in the local area. But in 1999, I bumped into a former colleague, a fellow by the name of Joel Landis, who is with, had been with Indian Creek Organization. As a director for many years and developed many programs in Montgomery County. He had separated from them, and was interested in starting something else and uh, he wanted to go into something else, so we bumped into each other at the Post Office and said what he was doing and wondered if we could get together and do some brainstorming and so on, so we did that. And this was kind of an open door to just get involved and to, to aid and assist this organization. It ultimately developed into an organization called Peaceful Living. It's a unique organization in that it is Mennonite based, and we know, Mennonites are known for their strong service orientation. If you have a hurricane Sandy or Katrina, one of the peoples that you'll see on the scene very early is the Mennonites Services out there to aid and assist. Um, one of the things I strongly urged Joe, was keep it, keep it Mennonite. Keep our organization Mennonite because it has that kind of identification and that's good. I aided and assisted in some formative meeting with some community leaders and so on and then kind of pulled back a bit, but followed what was going on. Then about four years ago or so I said to Joe, "I'm willing to serve on you board if you need further support." And so we joined the board and a woman by the name of Jane Fedarrao, she's a nurse, her husband's a uh, a uh, doctor at Grandview Hospital. Lovely couple, and she was serving as president, I think she served six years. She gave her life and soul to activities and you know, developing organizations are always challenging. But they did a good job and Joe was well connected in the community and had, he's a visionary and an idea person so he was always bringing something fresh. You just have to hold people like that back a little bit to keep it in perspective. And uh, so we became involved there and one of the things we saw was the need and assisted in bringing on more people on the board who were more uh, connected with the community in many different ways and so on. But the board had developed and they number ten at this time, but they're a good cross-section of the community, and clearly community leaders that are serving on the board. Uh, what has developed is they are operating a six bed ICF/IDhon the grounds of Rock Hill community programs in Montgomery County, which is a Mennonite retirement home, but this [ICF/ID] is on that property. Uh, some of the residents of the home, parents live in the retirement home. So it's a good connect there and keeps them connected with each other and so on. Uh, they're all pretty significantly uh, challenging in their needs, the six people in that home. Um, it's a million dollar home. The Mennonite structure helped to put forward money not given, but loaned, by reasonable rates so that it can be recovered and so on. So, that's one facility that was developed. Another home became available and a community leader donated it to the organization. It had been built actually to be an ICFMR and he was holding it, potentially for another organization to run, but wasn't too pleased with their capabilities and came to Peaceful Living and then donated it to us. So there are four people living in that home, very lovely home, and they're very well maintained, the population is settling in very well, they're all out in day programs and so on. So, it's a very nice setting called Gheyman House. And then there's a third house that has been opened which is called Shalom House, and there are four individuals there, four women, who are residing there. Again, significantly disabled. All going out into programs during the day and so on. So those programs are, are well developed. Another program that's gonna' develop and is operating is a Friendship Program. Kind of in the style of the church structure but looking for people who will become friends of a person. And there are 40 relationships in the community. Not all are in residential settings. Some are in home settings, but it's developing a one on one friendship relationship with people. So there are 40 persons currently in Relationship currently. Another big factor, which, which, we kind of pushed it from early on was let this program become something that's identified with congregations throughout the area. To aid and assist congregations to know how to relate to the disabled population and their parents. 'Cause too many congregations don't want to be annoyed. Too many congregations are aggravated at the parents for bringing a person who's gonna' disrupt into the congregation and so on. So going in and developing strategies and helping people to accommodate and to integrate and allowing the disabled population to be a part of the worship within the church and so on and so on. So this is an ongoing struggle to develop that program. We've had some good people involved and uh, and some good relationships develop and we're looking for that to be further developed. Unique because, I think we've all said, well of all places, churches should be responsive, shouldn't they? And they answer is, not necessarily and some not very well at all. And how many testimonials you'll have from parents who say, we went to this church but we were not made welcome and we were in fact almost disinvited. You know? So that's a sad commentary. The other side is to do something about it and that's what we're trying to do. So that's a third phase programming. A fourth phase is a program called creative gifts and that's in Montgomery County and there are 28 people involved in the program at this time. It's doing, uh, creative things in music, creative things in art. Uh, they're doing artwork and the pieces, they have an artist who's been working with them with masking tape and paint, and developing some very interesting pieces of art so that they're selling for 85 to 150 dollars. And they're, uh, giving images and uh, you know, if you have, if you have a love of art, it's the kind of thing that you might have an interest in purchasing and so on and so forth. Uh, they uh, deal with um, having some of them go out from the program for said number of hours to do bed making in nursing homes. Hopefully that could develop into an official engagement at some point. We don't want it to become a volunteer program. If in fact it can become a vital employable situation and so on. So it's becoming an exciting kind of program. It's not tremendously large, but they're dealing with uh, somewhere near three million dollars in programming at this point, so it's uh, it's not to be sniffed at, but it's growing and developing. We're in the process of developing a program at Bucks County, probably somewhere in between Doylestown and Chalfont, that area, for creative gifts to develop in that area. There's high interest there on the part of many parents who want to see something different and stimulating for their young people. So that, there is a growing number of people interested in Bucks County to support that. So, so we're getting involved in that and trying to make some contributions. Trying not to get too involved. I don't want to become president or chairman, but I'll support in these various areas that uh, that are undertaken. 'Cause at this point my wife and I are able to do things. We have a place in Cape Cod so we spend the summer on the cape and we do volunteer work for a missions organization in Florida for a couple of months in the winter time, so takes us away six months and I don't want to identify with an organization and not be able to give them the kind of full time support that they engage.
7:44:59:00 - 7:51:12:15
Q. The Right to Education case and the Pennhurst class action suit that we've talked about, quite a bit today, were really two of the most important catalyst for change in Pennsylvania, maybe arguably in the country. But how did these cases change you as a person?
A: Well, obviously, uh, and hopefully we all grow through experiences so I trust that that's had a, a growth element for me in thinking philosophically, etc. Um, I think one of the strongest things is, is to understand the, the dynamics, group dynamics that the national association for retarded citizens at that time, was one of the most powerful advocacy organizations is the country, at that time. I think Pennsylvania ARC at that time was one of the strongest state ARC organizations in the country. One of the things that we attempted to do, and I was criticized as well as praised for, it was we sent out packets of materials out of that central office to every local chapter every week of stuff. Paper clippings, uh, materials that came from the national organization. Other things of common interest to aid and assist them in the growth and so on and so forth. So information was an important element in the dynamics of an organization. And one thing I think that I learned in that period, it in many ways, is similar to a church. A pastor, a minister in the church is not the all in all of a church. Now hopefully a church is a body of people, each engaged in service, for their Lord, doing things. A pastor's there for a guide, he's there for having been trained to do, and to preach and to do it substantively for his understanding of, uh, the scriptures of the Hebrew and the Greek and be able to engage that way. But, he's not all in all. In fact many times he's ushered out the door. But something remains. And in the ARC movement, and in, I worked strongly with the association of retarded citizens executive directors of the country, the national association of executive directors. In fact I was chairman elect when I became deputy secretary so I had to leave that behind. But in that organization, and counseling younger individuals, uh, who were, you know, peppy and ready to go, was to remind them that you know, you're not the important person. It's all of these parents who are the power and have the voice and not you. Your role is to put them up front to engage them in leadership and to become leaders. That's not your role. Nobody wants your name in lights, you know. They want to know, who is the president? It's important; they can speak to the legislator because he's from their district and so on and so forth. Whoever it is, or the national senator or what have you. Uh, but in many young executives don't know that lesson, and try to build their own empires and so on. Become something else. Maybe become a service organization with effective leadership, but it's not very much of an advocate organization at that point. So I think that, and many organizations, many of the ARCs as you push down the line from the right to education to the community residential settings, the growth of sheltered workshops and vocational centers and so on and so forth, for survival, they say well what are we gonna' do? We have all of these things. And so they begin the providers of the service, but still try to be the advocate. But when you're the provider, you've sold you, you've sold your soul to the service system. Your effectiveness as an advocate is somewhat minimal. And Montgomery County was special in that. They were operating preschool programs and uh, nobody countered and said, we don't want these children to move on into the school system. You know, there were early education programs that they could get into now at age four and five, and the need to let that go and you know, provide an earlier education in your nurseries and so on and so on. Sheltered workshop, Montgomery County was one of the first leaders to say, it makes sense if we're to be out of the business of services to get out of the business. So, in the sheltered workshops uh, we organized a new organization, new board, and hired an executive director. A fellow who's good in that and he was in the Chicago area, we brought him in a set up Developmental Enterprises Corporation, which is a going organization in Montgomery County and one of the larger and effective organizations there. So we got out of the business of sheltered workshops. Some of the staff were kind of shaky, but they went with it. They were then, you know, they were part of the system uh, as it developed and so on. So I think that was some of the stronger elements and some of the stronger things that were effective and the role within it to understand your appropriate role in these various activities.
7:51:12:15 - 7:54:32:28
Q. You talked about the reality of budgets, and lack of funding to support people in the community. Do you think this says anything this sort of movement back toward institutionalizing people, says anything about the way our society values people with disabilities?
A: Well, yeah. I think that's a danger and that's one of the things that people have to be alert to. Um, world views, philosophes. There are a lot of people today who think that uh, abortion is the answer to disabilities. Uh, and yet, you know, we trace back to the Roman Empire and what did they do? They took the disabled and put them out on the hillside and let them die. Uh, I think abortion is even one step worse than that. Being a pastor and uh, being a student of the scripture seems to me, it's called killing, and uh, I have a very strong view there. But that is the answer to a lot of people to disabilities. If you're gonna' have amniocentesis testing, why do you want to do it? 'Cause the ultimate thing is, if we see something there, we're gonna' suggest to you that you abort this fetus. Is this fetus a living person? If they are, how are you gonna' deal with that consciously and so on and so forth. And secondly is the area of elderly. We are coming strongly into the venue today in many, many areas in the scientific community and the behavioral community, and so on, is that uh, let's not invest too much in the elderly and in new venues of health if it gets costly and costs too much. Let's get into a triage and we'll give more favorable treatment to those who we consider better possibilities. Now who does that kind of judgment? I think God does. And uh, but, I don't think we're equipped to make those judgments and so on. So, I think that there are dangers as we move in this direction of uh, you know, let the old die, prematurely if you will, and let's kill off the disabled population. Um, the Third Reich was famous for that, and they did that exactly to the aged and to anybody who was considered uh, disabled. They emptied their institutions via the gas chambers.
7:54:32:28 - 7:57:07:23
Q: When you're reflecting on your career, what gives you the most satisfaction? What aspect of your work do you take the most satisfaction in?
A: I guess, uh, situations like this. Going through an interview and being reflective and, and looking at things from a historical point since you know, this is dating back 50 and 60 years, to some of you who are younger, that's a long period of time. It is to me too. The, uh, the uh, um, but it's good to reflect. It's not good to live in the past, but it's good to reflect in the historical path of things, and unfortunately in this country, we have a tendency to rewrite history because we don't want to emphasize a lot of things that were true in history. On the other hand, we have some good writers coming forward these days who are digging deep into history and who are revealing some things that may not be good, but they're a part of the history that we need to look at them. So, you know, the reflective mode is helpful and healthy so long as you don't live in the past. We need to live in the present and live in reality and uh, if we believe in things, we need to stand up for them and continue to provoke things positively. There's still a lot of inequities out there. There's still a lot of parents who don't know the system, who don't know where to go, and there are lot of places, the systems are not there to guide them. So I think, you know, there's much to be done in many places if there's somebody who wants to step and get busy and do it. So, reflection's good. Uh, reality is good, and hopefully the upcoming generations will be engaging. A lot of good signs and a lot of statistics and demographics are saying that there are good things happening amongst the younger generation. A lot of bad stuff we've gone through which we regret with some of the young people but I think there's, there's some turning around. Uh, but I think we as a nation need to be reflective and I think we need to be reflective spiritually and see where we stand in a lot of things and what are we embracing and why are we embracing it, and those are good questions to be asked. Yeah.
7:57:07:23 - 7:58:12:08
Q: Any advice for the next generation of public servants who will be supporting people with disabilities and families?
A: Yeah, I think uh, you know there's a lot of areas of need. I saw a statistic the other day that the area of nursing was so far behind in the preparation of nurses for the oncoming onslaught of baby boomers and their aging and so on. And uh, that's true in so many areas of service. What's reflective of the attitudes toward the aging will also be reflective about the attitudes toward the disabled. So I don't think you can separate them and I think we need people who have value systems who haven't rejected the staples of ethics, the staples of morality, that were willing to integrate them into our field of thinking and service, and we hope that we'll see more of that.
7:58:12:08 - 7:59:07:22
Q: Thank you.
More Interview Chapters
- Early Life and Career
- Work with PARC
- Right to Education
- Closure of Pennhurst, Development of Residential Services, Role as Deputy Secretary
- Continuation of Ministry and Work Supporting People with Disabilities in Community
- YOU ARE HERE: 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