- Associated Press - Monday, May 23, 2016

DONORA, Pa. (AP) - The small white and aqua sign reads: “Galleton Commons, an SPHS Community.”

It welcomes visitors to the secluded, small residential community on the hill in Donora.

Upon walking on the grounds, visitors are likely to be cheerfully welcomed by one of the residents at Galleton Commons, a home for people with a mental health diagnosis where they can live independently in a community setting.

Galleton Commons is “unlike any other place,” said Kelly Halinka, supervisor for the nonprofit entity.

When Galleton Commons opened, most residents came there from personal care facilities.

“This is their home,” said Halinka. “That’s really the key. They consider us family like we consider them family.”

The goal is to assist them in whatever their needs are, such as assisting the residents in their apartments, with cooking, or with money management. Socialization is key.

“We follow the age-in-place mode,” Halinka said. “We do everything to support them for however long they want to stay here.

“Anything they need assistance with, whether direct or indirect, we do.”

Most have some outside services and a case manager.

They also benefit from peer services, too. Many attend Alliance, held once a week, an evening socialization program held at the Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services offices in Charleroi.

There are two staff members on site at all times. The staff provide transportation for the residents.

“This really is their home,” Halinka said. “All we ask is that they let us know where they are going and when they expect to be back. They really drive the bus here.”

All voluntarily chose to reside at Galleton Commons.

“They don’t want to go,” said Community Associate Astashia Brownlee. “They want to be here.”

“You try to be a part of their lives,” added Community Associate Maliek Pryor.

There are two residential buildings with seven apartments. Currently, there are 15 residents. Residents must be at least 18 years of age, although the current residents range from 37 to 50. Referrals are made through Washington County Behavioral Health and Development Services.

Like everything else, the housing is individualized. No more than three reside together.

“We try to match them up according to personalities,” Halinka said.

“They’re just like family. They have disagreements, but they love each other.”

There is a community room that is a hub for activities at the site. Inside is a pool table, treadmill and flat-screen TV. It hosts continental breakfasts each morning and dances and parties with disc jockeys.

On the grounds, between the apartments and community room, there are gardens maintained by the residents. An outdoor grill is the central point for cookouts. They go to Pirates games and Kennywood.

The residents, though, make their own life choices. Some like to be active while others like to stay on the site.

All have the choice to work outside the site.

For the staff, Galleton Commons is a vocation rather than a job.

“You might say this is your job and you get paid,” Halinka said. “But I challenge any staff who’ve been here for awhile to say these folks haven’t changed your life as much as you’ve changed theirs.

“It’s a family. We’re just fortunate enough to get paid.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/20qBipW

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Information from: Herald-Standard, https://www.heraldstandard.com/

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