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North Hills Monthly

Verland Residents to Benefit from $3.7 Million Expansion

Mar 31, 2015 09:52AM ● By Jennifer Monahan
Verland cofounder Carol B. Mitchell with board members Ray Huber and Dan O’Malley.

Imagine having a family member born with a profound intellectual disability, perhaps complicated by accompanying physical disabilities, so severe that you are unable to provide adequate care at home. For families who love a child facing such challenges, Verland is a haven that offers compassionate support in a homelike environment—something that they’ve been doing for more than 30 years.

At Verland’s Sewickley campus, 94 clients will soon experience the benefits of a $3.7 million renovation and construction project that is slated for completion this fall. Verland’s capital campaign, which is currently underway, calls for an additional $1 million to overhaul each of its community homes—45 houses across four counties.

According to Verland CEO Carol Mitchell, the Sewickley renovation project began in the spring of 2014 and is focused primarily on the Adult Training Facility (ATF), which includes 12 classrooms, an aquatics center, a physical therapy center and a nursing suite. The construction addresses the ATF’s most pressing needs; it will double the size of the nursing wing as well as enlarge the classrooms to accommodate adaptive equipment needed by clients.

About 40 of the original 70 residents who joined the Verland community as children in 1981 have grown up in the nonprofit organization’s care. The average age of clients on the Sewickley campus is now 52. “For many, with age comes more serious medical involvements,” noted Mitchell. Many Verland residents are unable to speak, walk or see, and a typical client takes 25 medications per day. Nurses provide around-the-clock care for those who need it. The expansion of the nursing wing will include three observation rooms, an exam room and a nursing office, and additional renovations will expand each of the existing classrooms to accommodate wheelchairs and adaptive equipment.

Chief Development Officer Frank Wakely offered one example of the impact such a project can make. In the ATF’s communication therapy class, residents are able to use a touch-screen computer to indicate their needs. Wakely noted, “For a person who cannot speak, being able to touch a picture of a glass of water on a computer screen to tell someone that they are thirsty…the equipment gives people a more humane life—a life of dignity.”

Verland began as a labor of love co-founded by Mitchell, Nancy Chalfant, and Theo Hanzel, all of whom had direct experience with caring for someone with intellectual or physical challenges. They wanted an alternative to institutionalization, which Mitchell perceived was often the only option for people with developmental disabilities in the 1970s. Verland clients live together in small homes, with rooms decorated to suit their individual tastes as well as their needs.

Staff takes a personal interest in the residents. One of Mitchell’s founding principles was to lift up the dignity of each member of the Verland community, and that principle permeates the organization. Wakely commented, “I see the clients with the direct care staff, and the staff really does care. Some have taken clients into their own homes for Christmas.”

For many families who have a loved one at Verland, the feeling of relief is enormous, according to Mitchell. “It’s a place where they can bring a family member and know that the child not only will be totally cared for, but will reach his or her full potential, and will lead a happy life,” she said.

While the current renovations are a concrete example of Verland’s devotion to providing the best care possible in a way that uplifts the humanity of each member of its community, the organization will continue to evolve to honor the individual needs of its residents.  

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