The Jan. 13, 2015, Department for Persons with Disabilities (DPD) board of trustees meeting was just like any other.
The meeting was called to order with reports from the board president, executive director, chief financial officer and development director. Revisions were made on policies and procedures and general announcements. Motions were accepted for policy changes and reports.
All were passed unanimously after inquiries and discussion.
However, there was one change in routine that day. The board added a new member – Delores Carhart.
On her first day, Delores proudly and enthusiastically participated in the meeting and was happy to donate her time to helping others.
“The first meeting was good,” Delores said. “I feel like I am contributing and making a difference. I look forward to helping out more in the future as a member of DPD’s board of trustees.”
The DPD is an organization in New Jersey that provides residential, vocational, spiritual and social services to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.
“We asked Delores to become a member of the DPD board of trustees because of her dedication to the community,” DPD Executive Director Scott Milliken said.
According to Milliken, Delores also makes a good candidate because she is a dedicated employee (for nearly 20 years now). She is active and involved in various social causes. And she’s an advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Delores also happens to have an intellectual disability.
“Delores is not inspiring because she has an intellectual disability,” DPD Associate Executive Director Joanna Miller said. “Delores is inspiring because she has overcome institutionalization, discrimination and hardships to become a strong-willed person who has strived in the community.”
“I am a happy person who cares about the people who live at DPD,” Delores said. “I had a tough couple of years before moving into the department, and they helped me when I needed it. I look forward to giving back.”
In the beginning
Born in Mount Holly, N.J., in 1944 to a large family, Delores is one of 12 children. She lived at home until the fall of 1957 when she was committed to the Vineland Developmental Center due to “increasing behaviors.”
For the first five years, she was considered “satisfactory,” however; she then started to display “inappropriate, disturbed and violent behaviors,” according to various reports.
Delores remained at Vineland until 1974 when she was transferred to Edward R. Johnstone Training and Research Center.
“I didn’t like it at Johnstone,” Delores said. “The people there were mean, and I have bad memories. I was a young person, and I was actin[g] out, but I was never treated with respect. No one ever tried to get me better because I had a disability.”
Despite expressing her dislike and desire to move, Delores was continuously denied other placement. She finally returned to Vineland in the spring of 1976.
While she was at Vineland, her family visited her on occasion. She would return home for a few months at a time but was always sent back.
“I understand,” Delores said. “I was a troubled young person, and my mother had a lot to take care of. She gave me a few chances, and in the end, I had to be out on my own to get better.”
Delores hasn’t had any contact with her family in 30 years.
Though Delores describes Vineland as an “upgrade” from the Johnstone institution, she was still living in a segregated environment and was vulnerable to abuse and neglect.
“I did bad things. Stupid things. But a lot of it was because I was unhappy. Unhappy that I didn’t have anybody and was living in a negative environment.”
According to incident reports from Vineland, she displayed such behaviors as running away, breaking windows, setting fires and attacking both staff and peers.
She also had attempted suicide three times during this period and was arrested and put in jail. When she was released from jail, she went to New Jersey Training School (today known as North Jersey Developmental Center).
From 1980 through 1982 while at New Jersey Training School, Delores was given more of an opportunity to interact in the community.
“North Jersey Training School wasn’t that much better, but I knew that I had to get better in order to ever live on my own,” Delores said. “There were more group homes now and more of a chance for me to get out (of the institutions).”
Her behavior had shown improvement while in the community, and she was recommended several times for group home placement. She remained at New Jersey Training Center until February 1989 when she finally moved to the DPD at Finnegan House.
“Finnegan House and the Department for Persons with Disabilities, is a much different environment from what Delores had ever lived in,” Lynne Rockstroh, director of Finnegan House, said. “DPD preaches community involvement and helping people achieve self-actualization. It is a nonrestrictive environment of love. We gave Delores a chance, the first she had ever been given, and surely enough, she thrived.”
“Delores is a great ambassador of social change, having been institutionalized for many years and now thriving in an inclusive and community integrated environment,” Joe Duffy, DPD board president, said.
When Delores first moved to Finnegan House, she was 40 pounds overweight and was a heavy smoker. She did not trust staff members, housemates or volunteers.
Today, Delores exercises, and she quit smoking. She often lectures coworkers and friends on the dangers of smoking.
Delores says she now has lasting friendships and always greets new people she meets with a smile.
Delores has been an employee at Gruenert Center in Lake Hopatcong since 1996 as a specialist in subcontract manufacturing.
She is also involved in the local community by volunteering for the DPD’s Fight for the Right community service group; visiting My School, a local day care center, on a regular basis to read and spend time with the children; and volunteering at Gruenert Center’s special needs area.
Delores needs minimal assistance with her daily life routines and lives independently on the bottom floor of Finnegan House.
“I never thought I would leave the institutions, and I did. I never thought I would have family and friends again, and I do. I love life,” Delores said.
Christopher Brancato, MA, is the director of development and public relations at the Department for Persons with Disabilities. If you would like more information, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 973.406.1104.