Not, my name, but Bill Baldini. Bill was the reporter who opened our eyes to the conditions at Pennhurst. My involvement in the “closure” of Pennhurst was at the very end. It was the late 80s. Many people had left, but there were still a few more groups of people living there, including folks with medical challenges or mental illness.
I had just been promoted to director of all the group homes and supported living at Elwyn. We were in the process of building the first group home in our county for people who used wheelchairs. I went to Pennhurst to meet the people who would live in our home.
I can’t describe how shocked I felt as I walked around and tried to understand the oppression there. I went into a unit where there were no sofas or chairs. In between meals, people wandered and walked around with no aim in mind. I met a young lady; her day was spent living under a parachute.
Who thought of that? All day she sat on the floor under the parachute to keep her calm. How could that be a life? (I will call her Jane for the sake of her privacy. I saw her years later. Jane was happy, laughing and joking around with no parachute in sight.)
Our staff brought the folks to visit their new home. We had a rigid set of requirements. A series of dinner visits and overnights were necessary. Each time the folks were told they had to go back to Pennhurst was heartbreaking. I remember those dinners down to the menus. I remember the day we opened as if it were yesterday. The joy of the folks was overwhelming to the staff.
Many of you helped close Pennhurst. For your role in bringing new hope to the lives of those who lived there, thanks! Please share your stories.
We need to remain on the lookout for anything which sets limits, and may cause someone to isolate or undervalue the life of anyone. While intentions are good, our human frailties get in the way. We are not finished making sure that everyone is valued and included.
I would like to thank our KenCrest Lifesharing office for hosting the Pennhurst Exhibit this week and last. On Wednesday, March 22, 2017 you are invited, in honor of Developmental Disabilities month, to view the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance and KenCrest Services’ historic and commemorative display, during the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., in the KenCrest Training Rooms at our Headquarters at 960A Harvest Drive. Additionally, come and learn about the personal stories of those KenCrest now supports who were residents of Pennhurst State Hospital.