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A Word from the President

January 17, 2008

What It Means to be at Home

Dennis W. Felty
Dennis W. Felty
President, KHS

At first glance, reflecting on the home may seem fairly straightforward. Home is where we eat, sleep, grow and learn, and for many people, it represents safety, comfort and family, as well as any number of related qualities. The home provides our earliest and most immediate bonds: it is one of the most powerful and pervasive associations we have.

To the Keystone family, the home is particularly significant, for the dream that launched the entire organization was to create a home for a group of people living in Harrisburg State Hospital. For those individuals, "home" meant a bedroom shared with a hundred other people, a static routine of isolation and segregation, and limited to no understanding of family or community. In creating their new home, we needed to carefully consider how we could help them change these associations – how we could create an environment that promoted personal growth, identity, comfort and security.

These considerations of the home continue to guide everything we do as we create and maintain physical spaces for those in need of residential support. Recognizing the significance of even the smallest details that define a personal space, we strive to be intentional and thoughtful as we plan for the homes that are an integral part of our supports.

At the most fundamental level, we want to provide comfortable, safe, well-maintained and clean living spaces. Beyond these fundamentals, we devote considerable attention to the Culturally Valued Analogue (CVA): the models of various aspects of life that are valued in general society. One prominent aspect of the CVA of home is a well-designed and welcoming atmosphere. In contrast to the polarizing, distant quality of institutionalized residences, a home creates a welcoming, aesthetically-pleasing environment which communicates a valued and respected role in society. For example, we focus on providing furnishings and decor that are not only functional but also beautiful and aesthetically pleasing.

Of special consideration is each house member's bedroom, which is by its nature a very personal and individualized space. For adults, we wish to offer the option of private bedrooms decorated in a highly personalized fashion. We focus on age- and culture-appropriate furnishing, large and comfortable bedding, and highlighted personal possessions and photographs.

Because our home is often where we receive guests and entertain friends and family, we strive to present a sense of hospitality through details such as a convenient location (easy access as well as a degree of privacy), available parking, comfortable furniture, a nice outdoor space, and other aspects that encourage guests, friends and family members to visit often. The CVA of home also extends to the neighborhood and community, and thus we select neighborhoods with positive reputations and solid relationships between residents and the environment.

The CVA of a warm and welcoming home extends to the Direct Support Professional staff members as well. They require a convenient space to work, make notes, secure medications, maintain records, use the phone, access a computer and study. Instead of a segregated office, such space is modeled on a traditional study, guest room or library.

Both the subtle and the highly visible elements of the formation of a home can have a profound effect on perception and role expectation. To counter the powerful and persistent role expectancy of marginalization and exclusion, all aspects of the home must be managed to maintain a positive and valued image.

Reflecting upon what it means to be at home, what home means to individuals, and how we can be at home in the community is a central pursuit of every new home-based project Keystone undertakes. Most importantly, we must always ask ourselves, "Is this a place where I would feel comfortable living, and is it a place where my family would feel at home."

Dennis


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