By Gregory Miller
President/CEO Penn-Mar Human Services
The now popular person-centered approach to supporting individuals with disabilities is not a new one to leadership and staff at Penn-Mar. But it continually informs what we do here to ensure that we are empowering those we support to make more decisions on their own and have more control over different aspects of their lives.
It challenges us to refrane what our services will look like now and in the future for the individuals we support and their families, but also for our staff.
While continuing our commitment to safety, our direct support staff is transitioning from the “safe keeper/care keeper” role to that of facilitators and mentors, striving to help individuals adapt to their environment based on their personal goals.
At Penn-Mar we are addressing our person-centered program model with new and current families, explaining how this option could be beneficial for their son or daughter. We want them to know that we’re not here just to keep their loved ones safe and immune to risk. But rather to help them gain more control over their lives to the greatest level they can manage.
“Inclusion” plays a big part in helping us to achieve that goal. The whole philosophy behind community inclusion is more than just taking people as a group into a community setting. It’s about helping them become a participant in what is actively going on.
Our Community Living Services (CLS) Program is only one component of community inclusion. This is a team process where Penn-Mar support staff puts their interests aside and lets each individual in their group have a chance to explore their ideas and preferences. These are incorporated into a well-thought out schedule filled with social outings, volunteer projects, skills development and recreational activities. Some of these activities can even lead to employment at some point.
In the context of a CLS group, the individuals we support also learn the fine art of compromise, understanding that not every second of their life is going to go exactly their way. But as long as they’re in control of their life, they learn how to bend a bit and tag along with the trip to the museum or baseball game, even if that might not be their highest priority. Daily our direct support professionals are assisting those we support as they learn how to compromise and negotiate.
Community inclusion is also important for folks living in our residential homes. They, too, want their everyday life to be one where they are able to pick and choose the activities they prefer to engage in while staff at Penn-Mar create the natural supports to ensure that is possible.
Today you can see the individuals we support participating in Meals on Wheels; visiting nursing home residents; welcoming soldiers back from their tours abroad; advocating for wage increases for their Direct Support Professional (DSP) staff; or working outside in a community garden.
If you belong to a fitness center, an individual we support may well be standing beside you in your exercise class or gliding past your swimming lane. Or they could be working out in an adjoining room with a fitness trainer or spinning coach.
You may run across them in the local shelter, preparing their pets for happier days in their forever home. Or see them at the airport leaving for a Las Vegas vacation or family wedding.
But all these experiences come at a cost. So to ensure that no individual is denied the opportunity to engage in these activities because of poverty, The Penn-Mar Foundation has established a Scholarship Program to create and fund experiences in the social, cultural, political and civil aspects of the communities in which they live.