Greg Miller, our CEO, loves to tease me by telling me I have had the most titles (nine) and offices of anyone at Penn-Mar. That’s what happens when you’ve been with an organization for 32 years that has the well-deserved reputation for constantly innovating its services for people with disabilities.
This year Penn-Mar will be celebrating its 40th Anniversary and I can’t help but think how much has changed here since Greg convinced me to come on board as a case manager in 1989.
When I started at Penn-Mar the Maryland Line building had just opened. We had three community residences both in Maryland and Pennsylvania and supported additional people in their homes. In all, we provided supports for 56 people. Today we have 56 homes and support nearly 600 people.
As a case manager I was responsible for providing and maintaining social service summaries for each of our people, including benefits, financial and medical reports (we had no in-house nursing staff then). When someone entered our residential program I would apply for their Social Security or SSI benefits and assets and troubleshoot any issues with their insurance coverage.
In the 10 years I held that position, my case load nearly doubled and it’s important to note that we didn’t have any computers back then. All the paperwork was completed by hand and typed by a secretary. When we finally did get a MAC computer, we shared one per office and I worked with three other staff members. I still remember vividly the day we first got e-mail!
From there I transitioned into the in-home support programs called Community Supported Living Arrangements (CSLA) and Individual Support Services (ISS) in Maryland — now known as Personal Supports — that provided daily living skills and accompanied individuals out in the community.
I was the Supported Employment Program Manager for a few years. There was no Exploration & Discovery Program then, now the first step in our Competitive Employment Program for people with disabilities. Rather we had “enclaves” of people that we would take to businesses to perform mostly janitorial services for churches, businesses and hotels.
Fast forward to today and you can find the people we support going on cruises, jumping out of airplanes, parasailing, earning black belts in martial arts and working in banking, manufacturing, retail, food services, and child care, just to name a few. Some of them are even partnering with Penn-Mar to develop their own entrepreneurial ventures.
Along the way I made other stops, including as Maryland Quality Administrator, head of our organization-wide Quality Assurance Standing Committee, up to my present position as Maryland Quality and Day Program Manager at our newly remodeled Maryland Line headquarters. The pandemic has temporarily required us to move all of our programs into the community homes and via virtual supports. Amazingly we have been holding some 4-5 one-hour classes each day for residents and people in their homes. Talk about a sea change in service delivery!
I think what has impressed me the most during my time at Penn-Mar is the organization’s unwavering ability to always see what could be for people with disabilities.
Thirty years ago I could not have foreseen the employment opportunities that so many of the people we support have embraced and mastered or the critical role DSPs would play in helping them achieve their dreams. We’ve come a long way from having people color and clip coupons all day.
Perhaps the most gratifying part of my time with Penn-Mar has been the trust I have built over the years with the people we support and their families. One of the gentleman I first met in 1989 is nearly 90 now and there are so many others whose journey I have had the pleasure of sharing.
Thank you, Greg, for inspiring me to grow and prosper at Penn-Mar. I can’t imagine working anywhere else and look forward to even more opportunities in the years ahead.