Chapter 6: Ginny's Reflections on Peter's Journey
00:12:54:08 - 00:21:02:04
Lisa: Ginny, we started our conversation today talking about your role as a mom, and you've shared lots of wonderful stories about your son Peter with us. I wondered if you could tell us a little bit about what Peter's doing today.
Ginny: Well, as we speak, Lisa, Peter is 51. I became his mom when he was, let's see, three and a half. We've journeyed a great journey together and we love each other dearly.
Peter moved from the Governor's Home to a group home about the third year Dick was governor, to a group home, where I would visit often. You know, we spoke about moms are always advocates, so you visit a group home with brownies and it's an unannounced visit, that the only way to know that the person you love is safe is to make unannounced visits. Even if the program that your child or loved one is a part of is an excellent program, as Peter's program is now, you never trust completely. So that period when Pete was in a group home, we were very involved, and then Pete moved to a supervised apartment and he still continues to live in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and he now is in a supervised apartment where the staff is not even in his entry.
He's in a separate entryway than the staff are located.
The particular program Under Impact, which is a program of Keystone Services, a very exceptionally good program in Pennsylvania, Peter has a roommate, and he has a living room and a dining area and a kitchen, and he has his own bedroom, his roommate has a bedroom and they share a bathroom. So Peter is quite independent and requires and receives a great deal of assistance -- things like reminding him to bathroom before he goes out, helping him with showering, helping him choose appropriate clothing, helping him -- don't eat so fast, slow down, and just innumerous kinds of ways.
Sadly, in the last few years, Peter has more physical problems than he had, and so he's using a walker full-time, and that's made us aware -- previously, he only had a slight physical disability.
Now we have to be always aware of ramping and elevators whenever we go somewhere, and he walks quite slowly and deliberately, so getting to the restroom, if we are at a restaurant, is quite a long procedure.
Let me see if I can describe this man. He's very handsome, six feet tall. He is almost always with a smile on his face. He is concerned about you. His -- you meaning the person he's speaking with.
His best communication is one-on-one. He often will turn down going to a big party where there are 20 or 30 or 50 people. He hears poorly, and I think between his brain injury and his poor hearing, being in a large crowd is not pleasant. But when he delights is having a conversation with someone. And we're working on him with appropriate conversational techniques. For example, he sometimes asks people how old they are, which is not a good idea, but he then may say, where do you live? And his best conversation starter is, tell me about your family.
So we work a lot on that.
He is a volunteer in two situations. He works Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday at the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, and he's been a volunteer there 15 years, 15 years.
And he has so many friends there. People say when he's not there, it just doesn't feel right at the food bank. This food bank, incidentally, serves 37 counties in Pennsylvania. It's the main food bank assisting all agencies that serve food to people. They receive their food through this food bank. And Peter bags bagels. When one day old bagels come in, in a huge bag, Peter puts on plastic gloves and puts six bagels into a bag and then Ziplocs it tight. And he knows that those bagels are going to someone -- he calls them someone who is poor, someone who is hungry or someone who can't find appropriate food. He also shreds -- he also shreds materials that are not to be seen by people, he grinds coffee, he does a whole lot of other tasks for the food bank.
On Wednesdays, he volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House, and they also have a series of chores for him, and his main function relating to that started about six years ago. He collects tabs, the aluminum tab on a Coke can or a beer can, and people all over America send Peter tabs, sometimes maybe 20 in a Ziploc bag, sometimes in a shoebox, because those tabs are recycled at the Ronald McDonald House for money.
And I forget, it's something like $130,000 over the years that have come to the Ronald McDonald House, because -- not just to Peter, but of all people who collect tabs. And you know, Lisa, that all of the great children's hospitals in America have associated with the Ronald McDonald Houses, where families may stay when their child is in the hospital. And Peter knows that he was in the hospital for six months after his mom died, his first mom died, and I like to think that that's closing the circle, that Pete is assisting those families through his work at the Ronald McDonald House, who have had sadness as our family did in 1960.
Lisa: Sounds like Peter is continuing the family legacy of community service and --
Ginny: Yes, that's right, which is our responsibility, to speak on behalf of those who can't always speak for themselves. I'm afraid you see a tear, Lisa. When I speak about Peter, especially about the great sadness that came in 1960, it's very emotional for me, but this man has blossomed into a citizen who votes, who serves, who gives back so much. It's a great contributing person in America and in Pennsylvania.
Lisa: And I think that is the perfect way to close our conversation today. Thank you so much, Ginny.
Ginny: Thank you, Lisa. Thanks a lot, and thanks to Temple.
More Interview Chapters
- Family Life
- Parenting a Child with a Disability
- Role as Governor's Wife
- National Advocacy
- YOU ARE HERE: Peter Thornburg as an Adult
About Ginny Thornburgh
Born: 1940, Hastings on Hudson, New York
Director of Interfaith Initiatives, American Association on People with Disabilities
ADA, Arc, Faith, Governor, Parents, Pennhurst, Polk Center