Category Archive: Blog

Jul 20

Tacticians of Success

By Gregory Miller

President/CEO Penn-Mar Human Services


Former President John F. Kennedy once said, “Change is the law of life. And those who only look to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

And that’s why at Penn-Mar we are constantly paying attention to the changing winds swirling around us, responding with creative thinking and problem solving, tied to a vision for a better future.

There’s no questions there are a lot of concerns in our industry as it relates to workforce issues, our national healthcare program and funding for services for people with disabilities.

And because our mission is to Transform life into living for the individuals we support, our paramount goal is to help our folks participate in the community, to give them the opportunity to explore what is out there to help them make informed choices about the job they want, their role in the community, and the possibilities yet to be achieved.

At Penn-Mar, we operate as a catalyst for those opportunities, as tacticians of success.

If you read my blog last month, you know that Penn-Mar has momentum on its side and is well positioned to embrace and enhance new service models, address the pay inequities of our hardworking and caring Dedicated Support Professional (DSPs), and cultivate new funding sources to compensate for government shortfalls.

And here’s why I’m even more optimistic about our future:

  • The approved Pennsylvania budget includes almost $400 million additional dollars for services for people with disabilities (the highest funding level ever), meets new federal mandates, offers support for people to come off the waiting list for services, and helps students with IDD transition from high school to more community vs. facility-based services.
  • At Penn-Mar, we are taking our exploration and discovery model to new heights, thanks to a $250,000 challenge grant from The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation that will help us expand our Community Employment (CE) program over the next two years, to help men and women with IDD find and keep jobs in Maryland and Pennsylvania.The Grant will enable Penn-Mar to increase the number of individuals participating in the CE program, diversify the businesses in Penn-Mar’s employer portfolio, and increase job retention rates for our participants.
  • A massive lobbying effort in Pennsylvania this year has helped legislators to finally understand the critical role of the DSP and the need to address the low wages that force many of them to hold multiple jobs just to scrape by from paycheck-to-paycheck.
  • At Penn-Mar, we are coming down the home stretch with our first national credentialing program class. These DSPs will be graduating in the fall with a second cohort following immediately thereafter. All privately funded by passionate Penn-Mar supporters who value the role of these dedicated professionals.
  • In Maryland, we continue to make tremendous inroads in terms of increased recognition, financial support, and community programming, directly related to our high level of execution in our areas of expertise and our ongoing commitment to improving our service models there.

And most exciting of all, our staff, families, donors, and the individuals we support will have a different level of understanding about the need to embrace change in a changing world, seeing first-hand how it can make the world a better place for everyone.



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Jun 14

A Transformational Year Like No Other

By Gregory Miller

President/CEO Penn-Mar Human Services


Wonderful things have happened in the past year at Penn-Mar making the last 12-months like no other in our organization’s history in terms of programming and fundraising.

Driving all of our decision-making is how each project and activity will support our mission to transform lives in an integrated community setting. Our Board clearly understands that which allows us to dream more and achieve more.

And achieve we did.

Several major milestones differentiated Penn-Mar from other human services organizations and spoke volumes about our responsible stewardship and visionary leadership.

DSP Credentialing Program

Twenty-six of our Dedicated Support Professionals (DSPs) were chosen to participate in a national credentialing program. When we graduate our first class in the fall, Penn-Mar will increase the current national presence of less than 250 credentialed DSPs by 10 percent! We took this concept and created a structure and reality around it that affirmed the professional status of DSPs. The whole process is geared toward helping them to master skills that will help the individuals they support transform their lives in ways once never thought possible.

Everything that went into this unique credentialing program was significant.

We funded the first class with $150,000 of outside money; no government support at all. This private effort speaks to the fact that our supporters understand the importance of what we are trying to do and want to be a part of it. That’s what is most exciting to me.

This year we also received an extraordinary endowment gift of $1.5 million from the Pitts family in honor of their son, Michael James Pitts, a resident at Penn-Mar. This fund will serve as a continual income source to support DSP professional training and compensation and our goal is to grow this endowment to $15-$20 million by the year 2027.

State-of-the-Art Learning Center

Just last week we purchased a building in Shrewsbury, Pa. that will affirm our future strategy of giving the individuals we support more of a community presence and give us the physical space to catch-up with our ever-expanding capabilities. We were able to avoid a capital campaign to fund this purchase because of the disciplined oversight of our finances.

The building will include a state-of-the-art design with individual training rooms, computer labs and customized settings for the individuals we support that will be conducive to concentrated learning. We will begin the renovations at the end of the summer with a completion goal of Q1 2018. Initially all our day programming and staff supporting this will occur out of our new facility.  Our training and administrative staff will eventually be moving into this facility when the timing is right in the future.

Concurrently we are conducting a full evaluation of our space at the Freeland, MD facility where we will be making significant changes to accommodate our growth.

Advocacy Inroads

A good deal of my time this year was spent advocating for funding, rewriting regulations and looking at best practices for the nurturing of people with intellectual disabilities. Believe me, it was time well spent.

While the Pennsylvania budget is not yet approved, the recommendations and funding levels included are like nothing we’ve seen before. And in Maryland, Penn-Mar and other organizations collaborated to get funding restored from the reduced rate of 2% to the mandated 3.5% wage increase for staff serving individuals with developmental disabilities. On this issue there can be no compromise.

Penn-Mar was given a voice at many tables during these discussions because lawmakers recognized that our organization chose to go down the visionary road before legions of others. We had a unique perspective and track record to offer which has contributed to so much of the success we’ve experienced this year.

My heartfelt thanks to our staff and supporters who have made this such a memorable and extraordinary year.

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May 17

Seeding Transformation in the Garden

By Gregory Miller
President/CEO Penn-Mar Human Services

If you’re a gardener like me, you’ve been waiting all winter to get outside in the warm spring weather to start making the magic happen. I love watching the once dormant bushes sprout new green leaves and buds, and finding plant shoots popping through the heavy soil. After all these years, I continue to be amazed when I see flowers blooming and vegetables growing, each in their own time, creating an ever-changing tapestry that slowly and beautifully transforms the landscape.

We have a lot of experience at Penn-Mar Human Services with the transformation process, continually transforming life into living for the individuals with disabilities we serve.

A perfect example of that commitment is the new Community Living Services (CLS) Garden Project we recently initiated at Whispering Rise Farm & Animal Sanctuary in Freeland, MD. Called “Seeding Transformation,” the program is designed to deliver everything that title implies.

There are limitless analogies you can draw from this process of growth and transformation, at once simplistic and profound. And 14 of our individuals, led by Community Learning Instructor Rosanna DiSebastiano, will benefit from this gardening experience — from planting to harvesting — picking up skills and life lessons along the way that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

As our folks prepare the soil and plant their seeds, they are acquiring skills that may lead to a career in gardening. We call it the “discovery process” at Penn-Mar, where we expose our folks to different job opportunities, hoping to inspire and train them in a new skill or enhance the interests and capabilities they may already have.

The beauty of this programs is that it will also be “seeding inclusion,” where our individuals will be able to interact in the community through the Garden Project and our partnership with the TALMAR Horticultural Therapy Program.

We’ll be “seeding employment” as the discovery process may uncover a passion, interest and talent for gardening that could lead to paid career opportunities.

And because adults with disabilities are four times more likely to report their health to be “fair” or “poor” than people with no disabilities (40.3% vs 9.9%), the Garden Project will be “seeding health and wellness” as the participants spend their days actively gardening in the fresh air and learning about the nutritional value of every vegetable they plant and harvest.

Most importantly, from May to September, our individuals will be “seeding relationships,” working side-by-side with their peers and instructors, sharing their experiences with their families and Dedicated Support Professionals (DSPs), and learning a valuable skill that we can market to local businesses as part of our customized employment initiative that promotes the advantages of hiring skilled, eager-to-work individuals with disabilities.

The Garden Program is also a wonderful example of how Penn-Mar leverages the strengths of our own DSP staff without the need to outsource, finding out what they are passionate about and then using their considerable skills, talents and knowledge to support and energize programs like this.

As a fellow gardener, I know our participants will be discovering that while every effort may not yield fruit, it will always have a lesson to share and knowledge to impart that will make the bountiful harvest in September – and for years to come — that much more exciting and gratifying.

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Apr 12

Influencing Businesses about the Value of Integrated Employment


When a business hires a new employee with a disability being supported by a community provider, the onboarding process, including staff coaching, typically takes several weeks or even months.   Should that business hire a person with a disability supported by Penn-Mar Human Services for that same job, the employer can expect to have them trained and ready-to-go in only three days.

How and why is that possible?

It’s possible because Penn-Mar’s Customized Employment Program has literally done all the hard work for the employer in advance, ensuring a successful employment match.

People with or without disabilities succeed in their jobs if they are doing something that interests them and requires skills and talents they’ve mastered. If they don’t like what they do, or don’t feel up to the task, they won’t excel. It’s that simple.

Penn-Mar utilizes a four to six week discovery and exploration process to identify each of our job seekers’ skills, preferences and natural talents.

We then develop paid and non-paid activities such as informational interviews, internships and job shadowing opportunities with potential employers to gain a better understanding of specific job tasks, work environments and labor needs. Only then can we determine if a mutually beneficial relationship exists between the employer and our job seeker.

If it does, Penn-Mar provides the individual with ongoing support through job coaching, mentoring, training and/or the development of natural workplace supports to ensure a successful transition to a competitive work environment.

That’s what we are doing very successfully today.

But what about the future? How can we permanently bridge the divide between employers and people with disabilities that will have the business community saying, “Why didn’t we see the potential and value of this workforce sooner!”

Penn-Mar and many organizations like ours have been taking the message out to businesses that it makes good sense to employ people with disabilities. Our advocacy is paying off but our next step is to influence the overall profession of Human Resources.

If you go to a local college or university today and explore curriculum for people studying for the HR field, you will, no doubt see volumes of information regarding diversity.  Unfortunately, you will see little mention of the value of full inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace.

Yet today’s college students, our future leaders, represent the first generation of students who may have shared a classroom with people with disabilities in high school. They are not complete strangers to these individuals’ needs and capabilities but once they hit college, it seems as if much of that experience may be lost.

At Penn-Mar, our vision for the future would include taking a lead role, to work with the higher education system to help them develop specific curriculum about individuals with disabilities and what they bring to the workforce. We need to teach Human Resources professionals how businesses can accommodate this culture.

Employers will learn that they don’t have to deliver support out of the norm; surprisingly a few creative processes that are not all that hard to implement can make a huge difference. But they need to be explored and taught in order to be implemented.

By helping these future HR leaders make permanent changes in the workforce to include skilled employees with disabilities, our culture will finally recognize and understand why these individuals are such a valuable resource.

That is the preferred future, the right future for individuals with disabilities who have the desire, skills, training and experience to get the job done.


By Gregory Miller

President/CEO Penn-Mar Human Services


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Feb 24

Two Funding Strategies for Two Different Budget Scenarios

Two Funding Strategies for Two Different Budget Scenarios

By Gregory Miller

President/CEO Penn-Mar Human Services


It’s budget time in Maryland and Pennsylvania and we at Penn-Mar are watching the proceedings with great interest while putting our advocacy strategies in place for both states.

In Maryland, our advocacy will evolve around “promises made and promise kept.” Governor Hogan’s 2017 budget was short on mandatory funding increases for staff serving Marylanders with developmental disabilities. So instead of including a mandatory 3.5% wage hike to the Developmental Disabilities Administration, the budget was reduced to 2%.

Our end goal is to get that funding restored and we will be joined in that effort by our human services agency partners in Maryland and the parents and families of the individuals we support. We anticipate an uphill climb but our position on the mandated 3.5% wage increase is clear – this is not an option; the state needs to make good on their promise.

At Penn-Mar, we don’t look to the government as the answer to all of our needs, but we do view them as partners and the state’s mandate is to care for and provide resources for the most vulnerable folks in our society.  It’s a promise that must be kept.

In Pennsylvania, we are heartened by the 2017 budget released last week by Governor Wolf. In a very difficult year, the Governor made intellectual disability and autism funding (ID/A) priority areas in the proposed budget. Our advocacy approach in PA will be to ensure that the proposed funding remains in the budget.

It’s apparent from the proposal that the message was received about the need to address the low wages of Dedicated Support Professionals (DSPs) and no matter what side of the aisle you’re on, it’s hard to argue that these essential workers deserve more than a minimum wage for the valuable services they provide.

The proposed closing of the Hamburg State Center – where services cost $409,000 per person per year – will begin the long-overdue transition to cost-effective community integration and services.

This move will save millions in the long-run but will require considerable upfront costs as individuals become more involved in community opportunities and their support needs evolve. We support this move and if fact support the closing of the additional state centers as well as people’s lives should be spent in community settings with the supports necessary to ensure a meaningful life.  One can only imagine how different the community integration model will look like in 15 years if the financial resources are invested responsibly and appropriately.

Some of the highlights of Governor Wolf’s proposed budget that are most important to the Penn-Mar mission include:

  • $54.7 million to provide for rate increases from the renewal of the waiver program;
  • $109.7 million to provide for increases in utilization and costs;
  • $15.4 million for the Community Living Waiver to create a new program for family caregivers to ensure 1,000 individuals currently on the waiting list can continue to live at home;
  • $8.5 million to expand services for individuals with disability to provide home and community-based services for 820 students graduating from special education – a figure that is projected to cover every such student this coming year;
  • Funding to begin to transition individuals from the Hamburg State Center to home and community-based services;
  • $9.3 million for new community participation services from the renewal of the waiver program;

We are pleased the Wolf Administration is beginning to take DSP wages seriously.  We are also very encouraged that this year’s proposed budget would assist students graduating out of the school system to find supports necessary to continue a meaningful life.

Adequate funding from both states will ensure that Penn-Mar Human Services can continue to provide innovative programming and staff development and retention, initiatives that are critical to the continuing care of the individuals we support.

On the proactive front here at Penn-Mar, our 24 DSPs who are now working toward Certification and merit bonuses — and our fundraising efforts to expand this program in the years ahead — coupled with our robust initiative to increase starting wages for new staff, are the best investments we can make to continue our mission of transforming life into living.


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Jan 19

Transition Time: Stay Informed and Engaged

By Gregory Miller

President/CEO Penn-Mar Human Services


Last week both the U.S. House and Senate laid the groundwork to repeal the Affordable Care Act. No one, including those of us at Penn-Mar, knows exactly how all of this will play out in terms of how new healthcare legislation might impact the individuals with disabilities that we support.

I do know that change of any kind can promote fear and concern. And when you entangle those emotions with misinformation and doomsday headlines, you create a perfect storm of anxiety.

At Penn-Mar, we don’t operate out of fear and never will. Instead, we believe that the role of leadership is to navigate through the reality of what we have to face, live in the world of what is — not what we wish it could be — and advocate strongly for the change we want to see.

No doubt we have some challenging realities in front of us.

But we’re not standing still.

We are currently meeting with our elected officials to educate them about the important services that Penn-Mar provides, the ever-increasing cost of providing those essential services, and the need to continually train and fairly compensate the Dedicated Support Professionals (DSPs) who make our work possible.

I also serve on the Board of PAR leading their employment work group. As many of you know, PAR is a nonprofit that represents home and community-based service providers in Pennsylvania. You can be assured that this organization will be working tirelessly to see that the individuals we support in Pennsylvania will continue to receive the person-centered services they require.

Penn-Mar operates in both Pennsylvania and Maryland. Funding for the services we provide is different from state-to-state, so there is no one rate structure or formula for what funding will be available to us going forward. But in Pennsylvania we are expecting a complete funding realignment for how services will be paid.

The healthcare services our individuals receive are not covered by the Affordable Care Act, but rather by Medicaid. The headlines have been very misleading in this regard and I don’t foresee the Republican majority un-insuring 6 million people or jeopardizing Medicaid health care coverage to the individuals who need it most. Imagine those headlines!

It is important, now more than ever, that families and advocates for people with disabilities contact their representatives at both the state and local levels to keep up the pressure to put the rights and needs of our individuals on the front line. (contact information for representation in both Maryland and Pennsylvania are included below).

We at Penn-Mar will be taking the lead to ensure that every elected representative clearly understands what we do and who it affects, and what can happen if the critical supports we provide are not in place. Together, let’s advocate for what should be and never back away from that goal.


Representatives for MD residents


Representatives for PA residents






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Dec 07

The Best Day

Striving to Make Every Day “The Best Day”

By Gregory Miller

President/CEO Penn-Mar Human Services


As the holidays and the end of another year approach, most of us are feeling a bit overwhelmed with all that needs to be done in just a few short weeks.

We are making lists, entertaining and being entertained, and shopping for just the right gifts for family and friends. We want that one special day – Christmas – to be the best day.

But here at Penn-Mar, we’ve set our sights even higher. We want every day of the year to be the best day for the individuals with intellectual disabilities we support. And we need your help to do that.

Like everyone, our individuals thrive when they have a sense of purpose. Their best days begin and end with something to look forward to, be that a job, a volunteer opportunity, or an outing with friends to a museum or lakeside cabin. They want to be part of, not set apart from, the community where they live.

We are able to make that life possible for some – but not all – of our individuals because traditional funding sources alone are not enough to support our innovative programs like community based learning and customized employment. Person-centered programs will ensure more individuals with intellectual disabilities have a pathway to full inclusion.

Every day Penn-Mar is helping our individuals explore career opportunities that best suit their skills and temperament and providing support staff to train, encourage and get them where they need to be.

We have individuals who never dreamed of being employed who are receiving training and support that translates into paying jobs in fields they love: sports, food service, child care, office work and manufacturing.

We need your help to continue this work and are committed to being good stewards of your generosity. Ninety-six cents of every dollar donated to the Penn-Mar Foundation will make it possible for us to integrate more and more individuals with intellectual disabilities into the community where they will be able to experience their best day, every day.

On behalf of our staff, families, and the individuals we serve, our thanks and best wishes for your continued support.

For online contributions to Penn-Mar Human Services, visit:;jsessionid=00000000.app216a?df_id=1492&mfc_pref=T&1492.donation=form1&NONCE_TOKEN=279D3F222BF5613AA0C7AD793CED416C

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Nov 21

From Exclusion to Inclusion


By Gregory Miller

President/CEO Penn-Mar Human Services

There is a revolution taking place in our country. No, it has nothing to do with the recent presidential election but everything to do with how people with disabilities are participating and thriving in the work force. This movement is characterized by competitive and integrated employment taking place in our communities and it’s the wave of the future.

We refer to this phenomenon as the “inclusion revolution” and it’s a movement as exciting and explosive as the phrase implies.

Penn-Mar has a reputation in the human services field as being at the forefront of this initiative. We are often called upon to consult with other organizations to share our highly customized approach to employment in an integrated community setting and the long-term successful outcomes that we see and celebrate every day.

Our journey began several years ago when we began to strategically envision and pursue the employment model we wanted to create for our individuals. This required a major shift in thinking after years of offering many of the individuals with disabilities that we support work opportunities in what were then known as a “sheltered workshops.”

These “workshops” were large open rooms where people with disabilities were provided specific work tasks and earned a paycheck for their efforts.  It was often very good work but it took place in an environment that clearly set them apart from our community.  Recognizing a segregated setting was not appropriate or acceptable, we were determined to change our approach. And that is exactly what we’ve done, quite successfully.

Fortunately, this new paradigm has been embraced by others, including the Federal Government.  Companies like Penn-Mar are now partnering with the business community to train, supervise and find customized employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities who have the skills and desire to become part of a professional workforce.

We have dubbed our customized employment program “Project Invincible” because that‘s how our individuals feel when they set off for their jobs each day and return home at the end of a challenging day’s work.

As a result of this unique partnership, businesses are finding a motivated, ready workforce who approach their jobs with enthusiasm and dedication. And employees with disabilities feel valued and independent. It’s a winning combination for the workplace, the employees, and society-at-large.

As more people with disabilities become part of the world around them, they stand ready and willing to take on their next big assignment.

In short, they feel invincible.

On November 30, from 8:00 – 9:30 am, Penn-Mar Human Services and the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce will co-host a forum in Sparks, Maryland entitled “From Exclusion to Inclusion” to educate business leaders about the availability of this Invincible Workforce. There is no charge to attend the forum, but space is limited. For more details or if interested in attending, please RSVP Kathy Rogers at

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Oct 17

Providing Real Jobs with Real Rewards








By Greg Miller

President/CEO Penn-Mar Human Services

A wise man once said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” There’s a lot to be said for an honest day’s work at a fair wage. It gives us a sense of pride and accomplishment, allows us to continually learn new skills, make friends, and become more independent, both personally and financially.

Individuals with disabilities want and deserve the same opportunity to choose their own career paths and at Penn-Mar Human Services we help them do just that.

Here’s what we believe:

  • There is a job for everyone who wants one, regardless of disability;
  • There are no pre-requisites;
  • Everybody is ready to work;
  • Penn-Mar will discover careers, not just jobs.

Our innovative Customized Employment Program uses a process we call “exploration and discovery” to identify each job seeker’s personal preferences, skills, interests and needs. We develop activities to prepare them for the interview and work environment, match them with local business partners, and provide on-going support and coaching to ensure they are well-suited and successful in their career.

These are real jobs with real rewards that enable our folks to earn a competitive wage; to receive benefits equal to the job’s responsibilities; and to enjoy the satisfaction of working to their maximum potential.

In the past year alone, we have assisted 99 individuals to successfully transition and participate in community employment in Pennsylvania and Maryland, where they are working as data entry clerks, machine operators, retail and childcare assistants, housekeepers, food preparers and servers.

And the list goes on.

The resources needed for us to achieve this degree of personalized support are not available from traditional sources.

We are continually looking to our supporters and new funding sources to help us maintain and enhance our customized approach to employment for the individuals we serve who are ready, willing and anxious to get to work and become part of the community.

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Sep 12

Hats Off to Our DSPs

By Greg Miller

President/CEO Penn-Mar Human Services


This week we are celebrating Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week, a national campaign that puts the spotlight on the thousands of dedicated, hard-working DSPs who make community living possible for people with disabilities.

Here at Penn-Mar we are hosting a number of events with food, games and prizes throughout the week at our locations to show our appreciation for this valued workforce, but that’s just the beginning.

On Monday we announced that we are partnering with the National Alliance of Direct Support Professionals to launch an outcomes-based DSP Credentialing Program with an inaugural class of 26 qualified and deserving DSPs.

These selected individuals have met high performance standards to be accepted into the program, and they will be devoting a minimum of 100 hours of course work and practicums to ultimately achieve their Certification and enhance their compensation.

Those who are eligible to participate in this program will become leaders among us, both informally and formally.  Their rigorous training will enable them to be skill mentors to their peers, helping to improve team dynamics and Penn-Mar’s culture of care through their leadership and support.

At this year’s Black Tie Gala, we asked our guests to consider contributing to this valuable and critical initiative to help us improve the recruitment and retention of skilled DSPs — the support team that allows Penn-Mar to transform life into living for the individuals we serve.

The response was overwhelming. In just minutes we raised $150,000 and those funds have enabled us to put our vison into action.

But again, that’s just the beginning.

With your continued support and encouragement, we hope to show our DSPs how much they are valued at Penn-Mar and how far we are willing to go to see that they receive the education, respect and compensation they so rightfully deserve.

Please join me in thanking them for all they do.

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