Workshop II

Additional notes of Meg Paterson Jan. 2023

I worked in the Vocational Adjustment Services Department at Laurelton from 12/1971 - 1/1997.  During that time VAS was located in the basement of the Laundry (later Brown Hall), which had formerly been the sewing room and maintenance locations.  Maintenance got its own building and the sewing room was moved upstairs where the weaving shop had been.  

It is my understanding that VAS came into being because patient work (unpaid) in the dairy, creamery, kitchen etc., was about to be ended at the state level.  This was 1970 and Nancy Holthus was the department head.  Nancy also obtained the first Department of Labor Sub - minimum Wage Certificate in 1971.  This paved the way for residents to earn money while working at Laurelton.  However, this work came from industry in the local area and the idea was to train based on the individual's needs and skills rather than what the institution needed to feed and house the people in residence.

Both Nancy and I came out of Penn State's Rehabilitation Counseling Program where the focus was getting/keeping adults at work.  This included individuals injured on the job, injured veterans, people with prison records and with disabilities.  I had worked at SKILLS in Centre County prior to Laurelton, so I had hands on experience in a rehabilitation (training) center.

Vocational Evaluation is followed by counseling and training if indicated from basic work behavior and skills to trades to job search support or skills.  This is the model Laurelton followed from the 70s until it closed (1998) which explains the many program names used with in VAS. When I came to work there were @ 700 individuals living at Laurelton.  When I left it was @ 100 individuals.

Needs changed dramatically.  Program names included: 

Pre-vocational, Pre-WAC, Work Activities Center (also the name of the Department of Labor Certificate), Regular Work, Job Support Services, ADC (Adult Development Center), WBMU (Work Behavior Modification Unit).  Other buildings besides Brown Hall were VAS Program locations on/off over the years; Farm Colony (Vanuxem), Cottage 1 (Kerstetter), Hospital basement (Derr) and the  Greenhouse.  However, most staff thought of VAS as "The Workshop" even after we tried the more politically correct "West End Industries".   

Over the years, work was done at Laurelton for Westvaco, C.A.Reed Co., Buttercrust Baking, Sunbury Medical Supply, Corning Inc., Erie Tech, Ritzcraft, Berwick Ribbon, QVC to name a few.  Sorting, packaging, inspection, and simple assembly.  Ribbon donations led to a "home grown wreath manufacturing business which lasted over a decade.

Similar to community rehabilitation centers, VAS had production staff, program staff, and a payroll person.  On occasion, maintenance personnel helped design "jigs" and job setups so industrial piece rates could be matched.  We did not take work if or that staff rates did not match those.  That practice was both a matter of honor and practicality. The Department of Labor visited periodically to ensure that sub-minimum certificate holders were following fair labor practices. Back pay and fines were at stake.

Production staff were known as  (client) "supervisors" and were experts in the work being done, training the clients, and performing quality control.  Program staff performed client evaluations and prioritized clients' goals and objectives with them.  All staff participated in interdisciplinary team planning and facility wide committees.

During my time at Laurelton, it is likely that 500 individuals went through VAS programs.

Initially, they were people who probably never should have been admitted to a state center and over time were people with physical disabilities.  Some clients had serious psychological issues.  Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Speech and Hearing, Psychology, Medical and Nursing Departments provided tremendous support. Also Educators.  

We all loved to see the moments when people who had never earned money, did, and realized that they could use it for break room snacks (and more).  Not unexpectedly, that led to the need for money management training and extra observation/supervision by Residential Staff on paydays.  I worked with some 50 staff members at VAS over the years.  Patient, dedicated, and caring.  (see list)

Employees - Vocational Adjustment Services Staff.   I am proud of what our clients learned and of the efforts all Laurelton staff made on their behalf. 

Meg Paterson