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A Word from the President

April 30, 2008

Making Connections

Dennis W. Felty
Dennis W. Felty
President, KHS

The longer days, warm winds and green landscapes of spring have come to symbolize growth and rebirth – and here at Keystone, they mark the return of the annual Keystone Conference. As Keystone grows in size, strength and geographic reach, the annual all-staff conference is one of the prime occasions to interact with and learn about the work of fellow Keystone employees.

The Keystone Conference is a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with friends in the Keystone family and get to know new employees and agencies. For many, this year's conference marked the first opportunity to meet and talk with representatives from IMPACT Systems, Inc., our newest agency. In the course of the three-day conference, 55 IMPACT employees joined over 600 of their new colleagues – almost doubling the attendance of last year's conference! – for a series of engaging workshops and keynote speakers.

I personally look forward to the Keystone Conference as an opportunity not only to learn about new ideas that are emerging both regionally and abroad but also to share some of my own recent experiences and ideas with the entire conference. I recently returned from a compelling trip to South Africa, where as the board chairman of PAR and president of FICE-USA, I had the honor of delivering a keynote address to the National Association of Child Care Workers of South Africa (NACCW), an organization that has recently partnered with PAR in efforts associated with their Isibindi project.

Isibindi is the Zulu word for "courage," and the NACCW developed the Isibindi project as a model of care in response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic and its ravaging effects on the children of South Africa. Through the Isibindi project, social workers train members of communities and villages to become accredited child and youth care workers. Endeavoring to prevent familial fracture in the face of the devastating effects of HIV and poverty, these workers provide care services for vulnerable and orphaned children in the children's own homes. In these child-headed households, children not only are responsible for their own survival and development but also must be responsible for supporting the rest of their family. By sustaining daily household tasks such as meal preparation, health care, life skills training and school assistance, child and youth care workers strengthen families and keep children who otherwise would be relocated to institutional settings in their own homes and communities.

As I visited various Isibindi project sites, getting to know the communities, families and dedicated volunteers and child care workers that are integral to its success, I was greatly encouraged by what I see as the heart of the Isibindi model: using the natural resources of a community to inspire and create change. The project has not only preserved child-headed family units but also has been able to provide social assistance, food security, skills development and job creation in an area that desperately needs these supports.

And as I listened to keynote speaker Ivonne Bucher at the Keystone Conference, I could not help but be struck by the complementary nature of her emphases and the things I had observed in the work of the Isibindi project. In her presentation on the social and societal challenges of aging, Ms. Bucher, the chief of staff for the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, explained that in the next 50 years, the world's population over 65 years of age will be nearly 1.5 billion, indicating that one in five people will be over 65. Clearly, aging – and how to provide care for those who are aging – is one of the great health challenges of the 21st century, in Pennsylvania, the United States and across the globe.

The concluding message of Ms. Bucher's presentation was that as human services providers, our services and programs must be responsive to the needs, tastes and preferences of diverse people and groups. The demographics of our aging community members are constantly in flux, for individuals who have lived and matured in different eras have different priorities, concerns and gifts. We need to be dynamic, prepared to change and modify our services to best promote longer, high-quality, productive and independent lives for all who we endeavor to serve.

Utilizing a community's natural resources to address its challenges, the Isibindi project presents a wonderful model of action for the new obstacles facing the United States as its citizens age. Such support systems preserve communities and families, for they not only allow people to receive support in their own homes but also allow people to serve the individuals that surround them in their daily lives. And this vision of integrative, self-sustaining communities promotes an environment in which all people are valued and contributing members of their society.


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