PORTAGE — Thirty years ago four individuals with developmental disabilities left the cold sterility of state institutions for the warm embrace of moving into their “own” home in Portage. They didn’t know they were pioneers.
That “moving in” anniversary was celebrated Saturday, along with the partnership “quilt” which has made Wood Lane Residential Services not only a success in Wood County but a model in the state for residential services.
Behind those original four pioneers was a colorful quilt of supporters, pieced together from family members, Wood Lane staff and board members, caring staffers, Portage residents and Wood County voters, all of whom worked together successfully to make it possible. When the Portage group homes were dedicated three months later, their population had increased to 22 men and women — 18 having come from state institutions.
Today that partnership quilt serves more than 150 individuals; from those living independently or semi-independently in their own apartments or with their families, to those in the 26 group homes throughout Wood County, including two “elder haus” residences and a respite home. And the future holds the promise of even more options.
During the opening ceremony of the 30th anniversary celebration, keynote speaker John Martin praised Wood Lane’s “incredible reputation throughout the State of Ohio for quality services provided” and the phenomenal work it does. Currently the director of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, with experience in providing residential care himself, Martin stated, “What you do as caregivers is the backbone of our care system. The relationship you develop with the individuals you provide services to is incredibly important.”
Linda Brownell, Wood Lane residential supervisor, updated the audience as to the Portage homes’ original 24 residents. She said seven still live in the homes, six moved on and 11 had died.
She especially thanked Portage for welcoming their residents in 1979 at a time when group homes were not common. “We strive to be good neighbors — and apologize for the occasional third shift fire drills.”
A long-time member of the Wood Lane Board of Developmental Disabilities, David C. Miller addressed the scope of residential services which began with Portage, along with upcoming options for the future.
“Wood Lane Residential Services has grown far beyond what any of us imaged 30 years ago,” he stated. “It now employs 330 people. It has an annual budget of $10 million.
“But despite that tremendous growth, the program has not lost sight of its reason for being, that is, to help turn those many ‘group homes’ into ‘my home’ for each of the residents.”
He praised Wood Lane for its ability through the years to “maximize federal and state dollars available for residential services,” the result being that local funding “makes up only 8 percent of the current $10 million budget.”
Miller, who also is president of a local HUD board, announced that the board hopes to break ground within a month for a 14-unit, semi-independent living apartment complex behind the two “elder haus” homes on Fairview Avenue. In addition, Wood Lane is beginning to explore plans for the construction of a new respite home which will be larger and more accessible than its current one.
Wood Lane Residential Services Board member Tom Votava, like the other speakers, paid tribute to the “dedicated staff that makes these houses truly a home for so many,” and led the audience in a round of applause for the workers.
Among those staff members present were Cortny Schwartz and Marianne Mock, who work in the Restle Home which has nine male residents. Schwartz has worked there two years, and Mock, one. Their jobs include making sure residents take their medications, accompany them when they want to go out, help with cooking and just showing they care for them with words and actions.
“Our main goal is making sure the guys’ needs are being met,” said Schwartz. “It’s not about us. It’s about them.”
Mock agreed. “It is a job, but it’s much more than that. We’re here to make their quality of life better. It’s more personalized. (Compared to) the stigma of an institution, we care more.”
Attending the anniversary festivities was Judy Restle Tabor of Columbus, along with her sister, Mary Restle, who is a resident in Bowling Green’s Wojciechowski Home. Tabor noted the Restle Home was named in honor of their mother, Bernadine Restle.
“This was her passion,” she remarked. After their mother died, their father, the late Chuck Restle, set up a foundation, one of its services being to provide vacations for Wood Lane residents.
“This really was their passion,” Tabor amended. “I can’t say enough for the staff. I’d never, ever move (Mary) from here. It’s her home and her family. Most of the homes are named after people who started them. It’s a real testament to pioneers in the field of developmental disabilities.”
Tabor said she attended the celebration in honor of her parents’ memory. “This was just such a part of their life I thought I needed to be here.”
Photo Caption: Mr. John Martin, Director of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities (far right) talks with James Layman (from left), Joylynn Riffle, and Robert StClair at the Wood Lane residential services 30th anniversary. (Photo: Aaron Carpenter/Sentinel-Tribune)