By Danielle Charbonneau
The 2016 Pompano Fine Food & Wine Festival will benefit both the Pompano Beach Chamber of Commerce and Woodhouse, Inc., a non-profit dedicated to helping adults with severe forms of Cerebral Palsy.
The history of Woodhouse, Inc. is that of a dedicated, loving mother, desperate to help her adult son Irving who was struggling with Cerebral Palsy, a debilitating neurological disorder that affects movement, balance and posture. In 1975, Broward County was devoid of facilities able to properly help him. Violet Woodhouse knew there were other families and individuals in the same position, so with the help of the First Presbyterian Church in Pompano Beach (the Pink Church), Violet took it upon herself to create a place where adults with Cerebral Palsy could live with dignity. She opened a comfortable home in Dania Beach for her son and others like him, providing a home with professional support and a sense of community.
Forty-one years later, Woodhouse Inc. still houses three of the home’s original residents. Woodhouse’s first employee, Marsha Linville, still serves as the organization’s director with no intention of retiring. Woodhouse, Inc. now has three facilities: Woodhouse I—the original home in Dania Beach, which houses 15 adults; Woodhouse II—a second residential facility in Pompano Beach, which houses 24 adults; and the Truman Worden Training Center, a day center where Woodhouse residents can go to learn skills outside their home environments. Collectively, Woodhouse is a desperately-needed home and family.
“About two-thirds of our residents were abandoned as children,” said Woodhouse CEO, Randall Bishop. “Only a lucky third have any family involvement.”
Some of Woodhouse’s residents suffered horrendous abuse before making it to Woodhouse. The Pompano Beach facility, Woodhouse II, was opened by Linville in 1983 in response to the Federal closure of a huge state institution when a series of atrocities came to light including abuse, sexual abuse, gross medical neglect and purposeful starvation of those living there.
“Ms. Linville hand selected 24 beautiful people, most of whom had been abandoned at the institution when they were small children and who had been ‘nutritionally deprived’ there,” said Bishop. “She brought them to Pompano Beach to begin a new life and, due to the exceptionally good care they received, some are still with us today.”
While much societal progress has been made, Woodhouse and the Cerebral Palsy community still face many struggles.
“The challenges we face today are essentially the same as they have been from the beginning, which is the people we serve are vulnerable and undervalued by some in society who see them as having no worth,” said Bishop. “But our residents are people who love, worry, like good food and good music, and want dignity and respect; just like the rest of us.”
People have often been taught not to stare, “but that can make our residents feel invisible,” said Bishop.
This is why Woodhouse makes a concerted effort to bring their residents into the community to go out to eat or participate in activities. Breaking the social barriers and encouraging interaction is important to re-humanizing people who have often been kept in the shadows.
“Sometimes attention helps more to someone who has been invisible,” said Bishop. “They would love for someone to come and play a guitar, read a story, paint a mural, build a gazebo, grow some tomatoes, or simply hold their hand and smile.”
Woodhouse welcomes volunteers to come visit Woodhouse. He also encourages people to educate themselves on the issues as the organization is often at the whim of public dollars.
“There are current state officials who refer to our folks in writing as ‘non-productive citizens’ and have directed state agencies to only provide enough funding to ‘minimally sustain life.’ We at Woodhouse humbly disagree with those elected leaders,” said Bishop.
As Gandhi said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”