“Everything Keystone does, as a whole, is completely centered around the individual and creating a better life for them by giving them opportunities they never dreamed of having,” Tunkhannock Program Manager Kristie Baker said of the privately owned organization which serves the needs of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Tangible success in action
Baker witnessed several residents make strides through programs and guidance provided by the staff.
“There are two folks who stick out to me who have had a very difficult history and there weren’t a lot of people who were still willing to give them a chance,” Baker said. “We looked at it as a challenge and we’ve supported them.”
As a result of training through Keystone Community Resources, the individuals were recognized by Luzerne-Wyoming Counties Mental Health & Development Services at a Celebration of Abilities event this past June at the Dietrich Theater in Tunkhannock.
“Being part of Keystone has brought me a sense of pride for our individuals and what they have been able to accomplish,” said Director of Community and Employment Partnerships Dean White.
The mission of the organization is to provide people with developmental disabilities diverse opportunities that lead to fulfilling lives.
“The services we offer definitely give them a reason to get up every day,” Baker said. “Whether it’s coming here to work or participate in an art, music or bakery class, we offer such a wide variety of services,” Baker said. “It gives them something to look forward to every single day. It could be as simple as seeing friends they meet through the programs.”
One of the most poignant moments for Baker during her time at Keystone was when the individuals with disabilities received their first pay checks.
“It was quite a party,” she said. “They were just blown away with how much more they could actually make.”
Keystone’s Tunkhannock office opened in August 2004 and, although it was initially met with uncertainty, it has proven to be a valuable asset to the community.
“When Keystone moved into Wyoming County, there were a lot of folks who were a little hesitant because they hadn’t heard of us before but, in very short order, we made a very positive impact,” Baker said.
The organization is making a big push to prepare individuals for community employment through its supportive employment program.
“We’re encouraging local businesses to give us a chance by letting us come into their business and show them what our folks can do,” Baker said. “We did a presentation with the Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce and we’re also talking to the Tunkhannock Kiwanis Club.”
According to Baker, when given the opportunity, Keystone’s workers have excelled in various assignments.
“So far, we’ve been very widely accepted,” she said. “Everyone that has given us a chance with bulk mailings and other tasks has been very pleased. We’ve kind of gone above and beyond what they expected as far as quality, timeliness and pricing.”
According to Baker, many aspects of her job are rewarding on a daily basis.
“There was a need for these services for a long time in this area,” she said. “It’s fulfilling to know we’re creating a positive and lucrative work environment for the individuals, and see everyone so happy and content.”
In addition to preparing individuals for the workforce, Keystone Community Resources also helps them develop social skills.
“We’ve had some folks come in who were afraid to say a word and were very shy because they didn’t know anybody,” Baker said. “Two weeks later, they’ve found their best friend and are going full force in a music class.”
Real life experience
In the bakery class, in addition to learning how to make a variety of items, the individuals also learn how to wash dishes, stock shelves, price and label items and learn proper kitchen etiquette.
“The class gives them the ability to learn skills that can be adapted to so many different jobs,” Baker said.
Carol Fulkersin, 44, of Tunkhannock, has worked in the bakery of Keystone Konfections for a little more than a year and has already found a niche in the kitchen. She enjoys baking pies, cookies and brownies.
“I’ve learned how to roll the dough back and forth, and we have a list on the wall of all the job duties each day,” she said.
Fulkersin felt a sense of pride when Keystone Konfections was chosen as the winner of the People’s Choice Award at the Keystone College Cupcake Challenge last February.
“It made me feel proud and happy,” she said. “I showed the whole staff the award on the wall.”
Karen Frey, 38, of Tunkhannock, enjoys stocking shelves, cleaning and making peanut butter pies in the bakery.
“I can make it completely by myself,” she said of making the specialty pie. “I’ve learned how to be more independent with different things and I’m learning how to do things by myself.”
Frey’s self confidence has also been boosted through participating in many of the programs Keystone offers.
“I’m just so proud of myself that I can come to work, do my job and be happy,” she said. “I just love Keystone. If we don’t have work up in production, they make sure we have stuff to do and keep us busy.”
Best in show
Each of the artists enrolled in classes at ArtWorks Tunkhannock participated in the Wyoming County Fair last year. One individual placed first and many others placed in the top five from among the general public.
“I’m impressed by everything they make, everything they experience for the first time and their overall excitement for the programs,” art instructor Kaitlin Bobrovcan said.
Their art was also featured in a show at the Dietrich Theater prior to Christmas and the artists earned a commission for each item sold.
“The support from the community was awesome,” Baker said. “We were selling artwork left and right.”
Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.