The history of InVision starts with the story of its founder.
The year 2022 marks the 30th anniversary of InVision Human Services! August of 1992 was the birthday of the nonprofit originally known as SharpVisions but known as InVision Human Services since 2010. Vision has always been part of our name because that is the important part – the company was created from a vision of innovating and customizing supports for each person we would serve.
People facing challenges had always drawn my attention, beginning as a child with cousins who experienced mental disabilities, with classmates who exhibited various mental and physical disabilities, and with friends and neighbors who had experienced extreme trauma in their young lives. As a young adult, I was drawn by learning to understand people who had experiences that caused them to seem ‘different’ from most. And after college, I took a job as a ‘recreation counselor’ – what would now be considered a Direct Support Professional (DSP) – someone whose job it was to guide people with various disabilities so that they could live in communities instead of institutions.
InVision credits its origins to a host of influential voices from around the world.
Upon relocating to western Pennsylvania in 1989, I began meeting people who would become teachers and role models to me. They would challenge any notion that institutions were necessary to house people with intellectual disability in our society – and they insisted that it was our programs that failed people with intellectual disability, not that people themselves were failing. Among these influencers were Herb Lovett, Beth Mount, David Hingsburger, Mary Lapos, David Pitonyak, Emma Van der Klift and Norman Kunc, Judith Snow, Donna Williams, Guy Legare, Anne Donnelan, and so many more.
Mike and Ruth - December, 1998
And then a voice from close by.
Through my involvement with Pennsylvania Positive Approaches, a movement originally associated with a government initiative, I was introduced to Mike by my colleague John O’Connor. Mike was a long-time resident of various institutions. He had developed a ‘severe reputation’ – meaning that the stories told about him were marked by instances of threats and actual physical aggression, but omitted the complications of intellectual disability, history of severe trauma, and psychiatric diagnoses.
Over a few years of traveling together and spending long hours chatting in the car, we developed a mutual respect and admiration. Mike was one of the most insightful people I have known, and as we developed a friendship, he began to explain what he needed so that he could live safely in the community. Mike was also clear about his fear of failure – of the consequences for himself and for others should he hurt someone and go to jail or back to an institution. Together, we looked for services that might commit to helping him get through those challenges. After many interviews with service providers, the people he hoped he could trust all told him that they would discharge him if he exhibited aggressive behavior. Mike finally asked why I couldn’t do it.
Lots of other voices helped.
Through the Positive Approaches Committee, I knew that my colleagues Beth Barol, Deborah Ostrofsky, Kathy Lee, Rosa Landes-McAllister, Karen Cross, Paula Wolf, MaryJo Alimena-Caruso, and others were trying new ventures.
So my own new venture emerged. I contemplated Mike’s dilemma, knowing he was far from alone in being someone with significant concerns that made it impossible to ‘fit into’ existing programs for people with either intellectual disability or mental illness. Being from Missouri, the Show-Me State, I decided that if service providers could not take on these challenges themselves, I might need to show them that it could be done.
With help from Beth Barol, Bill Nolan, and Tonia Gaines at KenCrest Services, and with a couple of local colleagues, Martha Forman and Jessica Black, I founded SharpVisions (now InVision) from my own living room.
Many voices continue to speak to me, but Mike’s has always resonated.
Mike has been a driving force in the vision that has become central to InVision Human Services. His memory reminds me daily of how we have changed the lives of hundreds of people with disabilities – creating new paths and blazing trails to find what works for each person as a unique individual with experiences and desires of their very own – making mistakes along the trail and needing to retrace steps, look for new passages until we are able to find a river crossing or a way around that cliff so that we can proceed.
We never give up. We are in this together, through thick and thin, until we find a way that works for each person. It’s always about the person.
It has always been and will always be about the people we support. We will continue to partner with them in pursuit of their own visions of meaningful lives, now and in the future.
It is exciting to imagine what the next 30 years will bring!