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Dennis W. Felty President, KHS

Dennis W. Felty

Keystone Human Services, Annual Meeting 2001

November 14, 2001

John Davis was one of the first people I worked with at the Harrisburg State Hospital after finishing college. John was about 16. In retrospect he was autistic but I don’t think that autism as a diagnosis was known in 1969. I worked with John every day, trying to teach him to talk and learn numbers and letters. John never learned anything I was trying to teach him but he certainly seemed to enjoy our time together. John was an amazing guy, he only weighed about a 100 pounds, but he could remove cinder blocks from a wall as well as disassemble toilets and sinks all with his bare fingers. One day John did not come to our session. I later learned he had been given electro-convulsive shock. In 1969 ECT was used as a punishment and as a very powerful tool to cause submission. I never saw John again.

A few weeks ago Barb and I went to Ground Zero, a profound experience that is impossible for one person to communicate to another. Every American should visit.

Soon after the bombing started on October 7th, I was up early watching the news. At the time my daughter Laura was living in San Francisco and I was finding myself very anxious about her going to work in the financial district of San Francisco that morning. I think that that was the first time I felt my own family being vulnerable and I did not like it. It also was clear that this was not going to be over for a very long time. I found my self thinking about the poverty and hopelessness I have personally witnessed in my visits to Russia and Romania. When there are millions of children in the World growing up in such conditions of despair, they are most certainly going to be susceptible to radical ideologies.

On Sepember 23rd, the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain Jonathan Sacks observed that “we shall not have peace until our countries love their children more than they hate their neighbors.”

Rabbi Sacks went on to state: “Let us say to the world: we will not answer hate with hate; nor will we respond to terror with fear. Let us say to our enemies: We do not seek our freedom at the cost of yours; therefore do not seek yours at the cost of ours. From this day forth, and for as long as it takes, let us pray for peace, work for peace, and yes, if necessary, fight for peace, until the children of the world, regardless of their race or faith, can grow up without hate and without fear: loving the life that is theirs, respecting the life that is their neighbors.”

You remember the experience I spoke of two years ago – the visit to the Children of the Underground in Bucharest Romania. I was traveling with Janice Winger, Director of Cross-Links and a Keystone Board Member. We were visiting Ron and Sue Bates in Bucharest. There we were introduced to Mihaela, a young woman 18 years of age, who lived in the underground. She invited Janice and I to come see where she and her husband Laurentiu lived. We said yes and late that evening we traveled to the area where Mahaela lived. While Janice visited with several children above ground, I followed Mahaela down through a manhole into the underground of Bucharest. Mahaela joked that she and Laurentiu lived in a 5 star tunnel. It was a cubical 8x12 feet illuminated with candles. She and Laurentiu had lived there as husband and wife since they were 13. They asked that I take their family portrait. Laurentiu led me from manhole to manhole visiting with small groups of children who have made the underground their home. All wanted photographs. I was so struck by the realization that thousands of children were living in this invisible underground society. All these dear children were using Arolac a highly addictive paint thinner. They use it as an inhalant that creates an instant high and destroys the lungs, brain and liver. Because the children don’t have documents, they don’t exist for all practical purposes. Ron and Sue Bates have started to take in the children of the children because the babies don’t survive in the underground.

Giela was a delightful young woman I met that night. She was perhaps 16, articulate and spoke perfect English. She talked with such passion about her dream of coming to America. In all of my travel, time after time I meet people who share this dream and all across the World when people speak of America and its promise, they light up like Giela did that evening.

As I have had the opportunity to visit and photograph many people with disabilities living in orphanages, and hospitals in Russia, Romania, Moldova and China. I have not been able to conceive of a path that will lead easily to community based services within these countries that is available in United States.

What I have learned that is different, what is so unique about America, is that in America we have a constitutional foundation to inclusion, participation and self determination.

In 1776 our founding fathers created an extraordinary document in the Bill of Rights, however at the time their concept of Citizen only extended to white men of property.

In 1865 the XIII amendment passed prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude.

The XIV Amendment extended equal protection and provided that no State shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

In 1870 the XV Amendment provided that the right to vote shall not be denied by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

And then in 1920 incredibly within the lifetime of many people present this evening, the XIX Amendment passed and extended full citizenship and the right to vote to women.

These Constitutional Amendments established the bases for over thirty years of powerful litigation and legislation that has changed the landscape of disabilities. These include the Civil Rights Act, the Right to Education, the Right to Treatment and PennHurst VS Halderman.

Then, in 1990 The US Congress passed the Americans With Disability Act, that extended a broad range of rights to persons with disabilities. The ADA provided the foundation for the landmark litigation of Olmstead VS LC. In 1999 the Federal Supreme Court issued its decision on Olmstead that established the right of people who are institutionalized or who are at risk of institutionalization to be served in the community within inclusive and integrated settings. For the first time the equal protection clause of the XIV Amendment was extended to persons who are disabled and have been segregated from their community through no fault of their own and without due process.

What a remarkable concept that the entire American family in all of its diversity and wonder share the same rights and opportunity.

The Constitution, legislation and ensuing litigation has been the engine that has established the full citizenship of severely disabled persons and has created the community system we are all part of. A system and set of rights that did not exist at the time John Davis was not able to keep our appointment in 1969.

As all of us struggle to make sense of September 11th we arrive at a deepened affirmation and understanding of the American Covenant of freedom, liberty, opportunity and justice for all.

Everyone in this room: families, Board Members, volunteers, government officials, staff and self advocates are engaged in this struggle, working to assure the full promise of America to all of its citizens. This struggle is at the forefront of what makes America great and worth paying the high price of freedom.

Throughout Keystone’s 30 years my family has been an important part of all that has been accomplished. My mother has been friends with some of the people we support since before Keystone and when she worked in the County Treasures Office she prepared our checks. My Father flew twenty-one B-17 missions into Germany in the Second World War and was a Prisoner of War. My Mother-In-Law, Kate Mikush has always been there for us. My Wife Barbara, has been an important and influential part of Keystone since its inception. My son Adam, My Daughter Laura in 1979 started to walk during TMI when Keystone, in its entirety, evacuated to the Holiday Inn in State College. (applause)

My Son Adam who is a senior at Middletown High School, enlisted in the Marines in August and will enter Marine boot camp in June. We are very proud of him.

This last year has been an extraordinary year in our collective work in helping people to be active, valued and contributing members of their community. Thank you all for the contributions each of you has made to creating a better World and the contributions each of you have made in supporting the accomplishments in peoples lives that we are celebrating this evening.

God bless our great country and each of you gathered here this evening. May we all continue to work for a World where all children can grow up without hate and without fear: loving the life that is theirs, respecting the life that is their neighbors and having great hope for the future.


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