Recreational Activities

In the early years of the institution, work necessary to keep the institution functioning at as low a cost level as possible was the main activity, except on Sundays.  Even then, the dairy herd needed to be milked, eggs gathered, and food prepared and served by some of the residents.  The later recreation schedule was filled, again as much as possible, by activities that were at low or no cost and available on or near the campus.

On the grounds was a playground for young and lower functioning residents.  Walks or hikes were led through the campus woods - even as far as what is now Hairy John's State Park.  Group picnics were also taken to Hairy John's.  Swimming parties of the more abler individuals were taken to Halfway Dam at the Raymond B. Winter Park on Rt. 192.  In 1924, a Laurelton Corn Husking Team, replete with costumes, took first prize at the Union County - West End Fair in Laurelton.  A Girl Scout Troop functioned for a brief while.

  As the resident population increased, trips were made to churches for religious holiday services and celebrations for some denominations, for appearances by the Laurelton Choir and a few soloists, and for parties hosted by church organizations.  Miss Pennsylvania made an on-campus appearance and an occasional high school band would come to play.

Arts and crafts, such as weaving, intricate Swedish embroidery, quilting, and painting were taught.  Pictures, place mats, and ribbon bow pieces made for different holidays, could be sold by the residents to earn extra money.  Coloring was an activity for some of the younger and/or lower functioning adults.

Charlene Schuster ably provided the following summary.

The Recreation Department at Laurelton Center provided both group and individual activities.  Staff members were assigned to cottage living areas for more specific activities, usually geared toward the abilities of the individuals, and also participated in more general activities, especially institution - wide events or some of the community trips.

In-Cottage Activities included movies, singalongs, parachute play, bouncy air mattresses, as well as some ball games in the yards outside of the cottages.  Some cottages had specially-themed activities, such as Italian night suppers, or pizza parties. One of the women's living areas had slumber parties, where they all sat around in their pajamas, got their hair done, watched movies and ate snacks

(popcorn, chips, sodas).  Some of the living areas had pool tables, ping pong tables, and would play card games such as Poker, Crazy 8s, Rummy, Old Maids, and match games or putting together puzzles.  

(One woman could have three 250 piece puzzles mixed up on a table; she would separate them and put the puzzles together one row at a time.)  Several people liked to draw pictures, crochet, knit, make potholders or spool crochet.

On-Grounds Activities occurred when once or twice a week, the Recreation Department evening staff would have "Open House" at the Recreation Hall.  This was held in the gym and the mezzanine (both of which were downstairs).  When Charlene first started working at Laurelton in 1981,

there were roller skates available, and people could roller skate on the basketball court area. There was also shuffleboard, basketball, baseball mitts for playing "catch", a record player and tape players. Many of the more independent individuals would come to the Recreation Hall on their own; some were transported by the recreation staff or cottage staff, usually the aides.  It would last about 1 1/2 hours. As the higher functioning individuals were placed in the community, a lot of the activities changed, but music, ball play, and games such as Checkers, Connect 4, Sorry, Parcheesi, and Uno continued up until the closing of the center.

The Fall Fair was an annual event held by the Recreation Department. It usually had a theme,

 i. e. - Star Wars, Western Cowboy, etc.  Typical fair type games were offered; a merry-go-round adapted for wheelchairs and special needs individuals was there, a photo booth or cut-outs for photo opportunities, a dunking booth (staff-manned only), bean bag toss, cotton candy, hot dogs, sodas, and snow cones. 

Judy Pelter said that the mix of staff of all levels, residents, their families, and volunteers was a wonderful sight to see.  She also said that the last Fall Fair, as closure was immanent, was very touching.

One year, the Recreation Department had a "Gong Show"/talent show in the Recreation Hall Auditorium.  There were a number of singers and dancers, as well as some rigged staff contestants who got "gonged' to the delight of many of the individuals.  Parties and dances were held either in the Recreation Hall or the Education Building (there was a kitchen in the Education Building which made it easier to serve refreshments).  Halloween parties where both staff and individuals dressed up, Christmas parties, and a Valentine's Dance were featured

Camp Whispering Pines was a day camp behind the institution.  There was a picnic pavilion, hammocks, a fire pit, and a composting toilet.  There were concrete areas where wheelchairs could be driven. Nature walks, picnics, and other activities took place there.  

Laurelton Center was probably its prettiest when it snowed.  The area in front of the Administration Building is now covered with adult spruce trees; however, when Charlene worked there, it was all nicely manicured shrubbery and open lawn.  People could go sledding down the hill (the Recreation Hall had several toboggans and saucer sleds); the only drawback was getting everyone BACK up the hill.

There was also a P.U.S.H. unit, a play area set up in one of the office cottages.  It was set up by a grant which was done by Dr. Ron Madle and Dr. Michael Franczak.  It was geared toward more mentally/physically challenged individuals, and offered modules for sensory stimulation which could be operated by the individual.  It had music, videos, I think a water bed, and various tactile/auditory devices.  (I saw from photos of the Center (prior to 2023) that it was still there; I don't know if it would be salvageable or not).

Examples of some Off-Grounds activities were: Every year the Recreation Department would reserve 5 day stays at Wesley Forest Camp in Weikert.  Staff from all departments would offer assistance, and aides would work their shifts there.  Camping was done in cabins with modern plumbing, but there were picnics, hikes, canoeing, swimming, games, arts and crafts, and campfires, etc.

Swimming was also arranged at the Selinsgrove Center pool.  Charlene received training in Water Safety Instructor and Adapted Aquatics Certification, so they didn't need to have a lifeguard from Selinsgrove Center there.  Swim trips were arranged several times a month.

Judy Pelter mentioned that trips and activities were coordinated by the Recreation Department and individual teams of Cottage Managers and Social Workers.  Staff frequently assisted residents in the very important activity of writing to their families.  Some of the staff would take the letters home, provide the postage for them, and take the letters to the post office, thus by-passing the institution mail system.

Employees remember the following :

  • The Christmas pageant
  • Volunteer parties
  • Visiting women's groups
  • Preparation for Baptism
  • Restaurant trips
  • Knoebel's Grove Amusement park
  • Philadelphia Zoo
  • Phillies' baseball games
  • Ice Capades at Hershey
  • Tobogganing at Eagles Mere
  • Tobias Animal Farm
  • Special Olympics
  • Koziar's Christmas Village to see the Christmas lights
  • Bloomsburg Fair
  • Outside Camps (Beacon Light, Camp Daddy Allen, etc.)
  • Donkey basketball games at nearby high schools
  • Fishing at local lakes
  • Circuses
  • Parades
  • Picnics at local state parks
  • Boat rides on the Hiawatha on the Susquehanna River
  • Trips to the State MH/MR Convention
  • Shopping at various Dollar Stores
  • Mental Health Week
  • Working in the Greenhouse
  • Family visits
  • Trips to see distant families
  • Queen of the May pageants in the 1950s
  • Home-cooked Thanksgiving meals especially at group homes and senior centers
  • Guest visits to homes of staff and volunteers