Welcome to The Learning Community! Some of the best supports for people with disabilities in the country start as a dream from visionaries who see how something that doesn’t exist could work and the difference that it could make. The Learning Community is an example of a company that began as an idea that became a reality.
During the 1990’s, Michael Smull was a regular visitor to Blair County and consulted on how existing organizations could become better at supporting people by adopting person centered practices. Blair County has long been committed to developing “best practices” within the county services and rising expectations regarding the quality of those services. Work with existing provider agencies was making a difference, but an organization offering current best practice services would help make change occur more rapidly.
Michael had helped start several best practice agencies and was a consultant to others. Among them was Mid-Tenn Supported Living in Nashville, TN. Mid-Tenn is an agency that uses a “Companion” model of support. The companion model of support is based on the idea that the people who use services should select who should provide their support and that the person selected would live with them and share their life. How the person lives is determined by the person using a person centered planning process. Together with Mary Lou Bourne and Helen Terza, Michael felt that an organization based on these principles would not only help people in Blair County have the life they wanted, but would significantly contribute to the changes that the county was leading. It was agreed that the local agency would be started under the auspices of The Learning Community for Person Centered Practices, a not for profit organization with international membership, and that Andrea Eckenrod would be the local executive director.
The Learning Community for Essential Lifestyle Planning opened their doors in Blair County, Pennsylvania. That first office was a place to behold by the new staff excited with the prospect of providing new services to their community. The office furniture was donated and not built to promote luxury, but then our staff was prepared to be on the move more than sitting! The fuzzy 1970 style wallpaper, velvet drapes and glow-in-the-dark yellow bathroom is now a fond memory as the first home office for The Learning Community.
Staff members were recruited from the dedicated professionals who worked throughout the area and who had been providing services within the current system for as long as 20 years. They joined our small band of visionaries, bringing their own revolutionary ideas, longing to be part of an organization that embraces the idea of a new way to do “business.”
In our first office with our new staff, every necessary document was developed to run the organization. Company policy, mission, budget, contracts, account development, insurances, time sheets, orientation procedures, and implementation guidelines were all created during those early years. Long hours, sleepless nights, and good old fashioned sweat evolved into an organization dedicated to the mission of Person Centered Services. Though we are now getting more sleep, the passion to recognize and implement a better way is still a strong motivator for support professionals at all levels. The Learning Community’s support professionals, family, and people who receive services and the community who assist in providing happy, safe, and positive options for all people is our foundation, our purpose, and our motivation.
On a corporate level, the plan was that the organization would temporarily operate under the umbrella of the International Board of Directors. Once Blair County efforts were firmly established, The Leaning Community of Pennsylvania would be spun off as an independent organization. The organization did indeed reincorporate in July, 2007, only three years from the date of inception. The Learning Community of Pennsylvania was established with a local Board of Directors.
The grass root effort and the beginning concepts have evolved, but the original mission, values, and philosophy have remained the core foundation. The Learning Community of Pennsylvania continues to interact with the national origination as well as similar Provider Service groups across the county and around the world to keep the vision alive and growing for our community.
Margee Crust, Community Support Manager
Ernie Skibo, Community Support Manager
Matt Walter, Community Support Manager
Melissa Yahner, Human Resources/Fiscal
Colleen Sheehan, Administrative Support Assistant
Connie Traficante - President
Karen Clayton - Vice President
Linda Russo - Secretary
Atty. Nat Smith