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A Brief History: As Remembered by Dennis Felty

(continued from page 2) Little boy sitting on floor of day room

3400 People Lived at the Harrisburg State Hospital

At this time, 3,400 people lived at the Harrisburg State Hospital. A group of employees at the Harrisburg State Hospital, including me, began meeting to explore alternatives to the horrendous conditions at the Hospital.

Group outside state institution

I was a new 1968 graduate of Elizabethtown College with a degree in psychology. During college, two of my professors worked part time at the Harrisburg State Hospital and shared stories about the conditions there with their students. Both later left Elizabethtown College to work full time at the Harrisburg State Hospital, and several of their students joined them in their work, which was directed at changing the conditions at the institution.

Young boy in corner of shower

At that time, Dr. Janet Kelley was the Director of the Resident Center at the Harrisburg State Hospital. The Center was an alternative inpatient program based on the concepts of a therapeutic community and the Patient Rights Movement. Dr. Kelley was conducting courses in organizational change and the impact of institutionalization on people, and many of us who were exploring alternatives to institutionalization attended them.

We all knew that there was something profoundly wrong with how people were being treated. However, at the time there was no vision of an alternative. Harold Kiester, Director of the Intermediate Care Facility at the Hospital asked me to begin working in the community in the hope of impacting the availability of community services for people that might be able to leave the Hospital. I began working at the Harrisburg Hospital Community Mental Health Center at Brady Hall with Dr. Adlestein and Judy Vercher. This work resulted in co-founding the Market Place with Iris Harad, a community based pre-partial hospitalization program for people preparing to leave the hospital. Robert Scott and Peter House had just developed "Goal Planning" and were directly involved in the Market Place program. Robert Scott was to become a long term Keystone Board Member and Iris Harad would eventually serve as Keystone's third Board Chairman.

Two people in day room in institution

Mel Knowlton, who had worked with Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger at ENCOR (Eastern Nebraska Community Organization Retardation) was hired by the State Office of Mental Retardation to create a community-based program for people with intellectual disabilities, including community services for people living in state mental retardation centers. ENCOR, a comprehensive community service system in Omaha Nebraska, was the origin of many outstanding people who would help build the community system across the country. Dr. Wolfensberger was the originator of the concepts of Normalization and Social Role Valorization (SRV) that defined core principles for Keystone.

Mel Knowlton Funds What Will Become Keystone

In 1971, Mel Knowlton heard about our group at the Harrisburg State Hospital and one afternoon came out to meet with us. Mel said, "I have funding for a group home for people who are living in State Centers. Do you want some?" We said yes and Mel helped us write our first proposal. This "Yes" would be the first yes in a long series of yeses that would eventually impact the lives of thousands of people. Mel funded the project for $70,000.

Keystone's Early Years

Our Harrisburg State Hospital Group asked Reverend Charles Dorsey, Director of the Council of Churches (later Christian Churches United), to convene a community group that would form a new non profit agency. Edna Silberman, an outstanding community volunteer and director of the Aurora Club, joined the group and we incorporated Keystone Residence in October 1972. Keystone's incorporators were Barbara Scheffer, Evelyn Byron, Edna Silberman, Charles Dorsey, Iris Harad and me. Reverend Dorsey served as our first Board Chairman.

After much time, the Board had not been successful in hiring an executive director and Ellen Danfield, a close friend and the new mental retardation coordinator for Dauphin County, encouraged me to apply "Dennis,” she said, “This will be one of the biggest things you will ever be part of, you should do it." So at age 24, I resigned from Keystone's Board, applied for the position and was hired as Keystone's first executive director.

At the time, Dr. Adlestein had finished his term as Commissioner of Mental Health and was then serving as the Medical Director of the new Harrisburg Hospital Community Mental Health Center located at Brady Hall on Front Street in Harrisburg. When I had informed Dr. Adlestein that I had accepted the executive director's position of Keystone he offered a small ante room for use as Keystone's first office. Stephanie DeMuro and Gretchen Morgan were hired as Keystone's second and third employees. Stephanie would eventually be responsible for helping over one hundred people return home from state institutions as director of Keystone's ICF/MR programs.

Christmas at Keystone's First Home

Christmas at Keystone's first home 1974

In 1972, Keystone opened its first home on Green Street (see the Green Street Society) and then a second home on North Third Street in Harrisburg. Governor and Mrs. Shapp personally co-signed the mortgage for the home. Mrs. Shapp was a co-worker and family therapist at the Harrisburg Hospital Community Mental Health Center. In 1974, Keystone Residence opened its first group home for people with mental illness on Forster Street in Harrisburg. The first home on Forster street was followed by a continuously expanding array of mental health services in Dauphin County, many of which would eventually become part of Keystone Community Mental Health Services.

These homes were followed by many other homes in Dauphin County over the ensuing years. This was a time of a sense of great social justice. We would visit state institutions and bring people home, sometimes the very same day. I remember talking with one elderly man at Selinsgrove State Center about the possibility of him leaving. His name was Don and he sat there not saying anything. With his giant hands folded, he finally said quietly, "Where were you when I was young?"

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