Peaceful Living and Rockhill Mennonite Community: Collaboration brings peace and care

Megan Blank

On April 6, Peaceful Living’s new group home, Jubilee House, located on the campus of Rockhill Mennonite Community, welcomed its first residents. “There’s a real family feel and compassion in the way the staff relate to the clients,” Sue Krauss said, whose son Tom is a resident.

A partnership between Rockhill Mennonite Community and Peaceful Living, it took 12 years of persistence and perseverance to make Jubilee House a reality. “We see ourselves as spiritual advocates for these people,” Executive Director Joe Landis said, who has been involved in this field for 38 years.

“My approach to developing a service or care is to respond to what parents say,” he continued. “It eventually goes as the parents say, anyway – they have been such strong advocates in the community. We’re committed to what the family wants.”

Group homes have often been in demand in Pennsylvania. Currently, 23,000 people across the state are on waiting lists. In 1996 while working at Indian Creek Foundation. Landis began a dialogue with 50 different families about the need for such a group home in this region.

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“For some, home care is best,” Landis said “From the state’s point of view, the group home at the time was dying out. They said those people should live with their families or in family living which is a kind of foster care. Now, some people like that, but it’s not for everyone. These families wanted a group home.”

Landis then thought of the format of a retirement community, and the advantage of having one in close proximity to the group home. It would also give the parents a choice to retire at the community, and thus, remain close to their children.

Several local retirement communities entered the dialogue. Souderton Mennonite Homes eventually gave land for Reliance House, built for higher functioning adults. It was Wayne Clemens, the board chair at Rockhill Mennonite Community, who took up Jubilee House.

“Wayne Clemens told me, ‘I want to respond to the individuals who need 24-hour care,’” Landis said. “He’s always had a special interest in these people – that as Mennonites, we should take care of them.”

“It was just the right thing to do, that simple,” Clemens said. “

The process wasn’t easy though. “It is extremely complicated to get funding and provide care,” Landis said. “As we went on, it got more and more complicated. Most of the cost comes from staffing, as 24-hour care would be needed. Reliance House is one person for eight people, this was two to three for six.”

After Landis left Indian Creek in 1999, he tried to keep the Jubilee House dialogue going. Rockhill hired Landis in 2004, who had recently formed Peaceful Living, for the project. Landis began contacting the state legislature. State Rep. Paul Clymer tried to help pass the project in 2006, but failed.

By the spring of 2007, several families had left the project. Even Landis began to grow weary planning to only “give it one more shot.” Landis continued to meet with other legislators, but “wasn’t hopeful.” A meeting was arranged with Kevin Casey, Director of the Office of Developmental Programs in Harrisburg. At the meeting, they learned of a plan to pay 100 percent for these families.

Ground was broken in July 2008, costing almost $1 million. The house, set in a quiet, wooded area of the RMC campus, features a screened in porch, large living room, kitchen and dining room with all the modern facilities. Each resident has his and her own room.

Another special factor about Jubilee House is the effort the staff undergoes to keep its residents involved in their faith community. “Tom was a part of church all his life, it would’ve have been very hard, he’d miss it,” his father, Al Krauss, said. “He’s been liking living there very much.”