HARRISONBURG — As a toddler with cerebral palsy, Joanie Hanshaw spent her childhood at the Central Virginia Training Center in Lynchburg.
She was born in Augusta County in 1945, but it is unclear the exact age she was sent to CVTC, one of Virginia’s state-run complexes for people with physical and intellectual disabilities.
What is clear is that she did not leave until 1984.
Operations are winding down at the Lynchburg facility, which is slated to close next year following a settlement with the Department of Justice. In 2011, the DOJ found that Virginia’s treatment of people with disabilities in the training centers violated their civil rights. The following year, a settlement was reached, with plans to transition most of the patients to community-based programs.
Dr. Hughes Melton, commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, told a legislative subcommittee last week that the state has made “excellent progress” in transitioning patients, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. Forty-five people still live in the Lynchburg center, and most have plans for where to go when they leave. Some families, however, are opposed to the closure and say other options aren’t sufficient to provide the necessary care, The Associated Press reported.
Hanshaw, now 73, spent nearly half of her life at CVTC. When she was told she would be leaving the facility to move back to the Valley, she was happy.
Coming back into the community started at the Harrison House, a residential support service with Pleasant View that provides intensive, individualized training to those with intellectual disabilities and at least one other disability. The service is funded by Medicare.
Founded in 1971, Pleasant View provides support to individuals who remain in their own homes or can live on their own.
Nancy Hopkins-Garriss, executive director of Pleasant View, said Hanshaw “blossomed in the community” after coming back to the Valley.
Hanshaw now resides at Moyers apartments, a supervised apartment building. She lives there with one other roommate.
Nancy Cooper, with Pleasant View, said Hanshaw is “the most determined person” she has ever met.
“You wouldn’t believe the things she could do,” Cooper said.
Since leaving CVTC, Hanshaw has been able to hold a paying job and volunteer through community connections — a community-based program at Pleasant View which combines volunteer work with training in jobs, community integration, health life styles and social skills.
“She was one of the first people in the community connections program,” Cooper said. “Now there are about 40 people in the program.”
For the last couple of years, Hanshaw spends her Wednesdays working at the Harrison House, where she is paid to clean chairs and fold laundry. On Thursdays, she comes to Pleasant View’s office in Harrisonburg to help fold laundry during the center-based day support program. On Fridays, she folds bulletins at the Bridgewater Mennonite Church.
“She is like the Energizer Bunny,” Cooper said. “She just keeps a going and going.”
Working within the community was something Hanshaw never had the chance to experience while at CVTC. Although it has been 35 years since she was at CVTC, the conditions she lived in remain vivid.
Hanshaw said that during her time at CVTC, staff would hit her and she slept on a mattress on the floor.
She said she was glad to leave the center with a smile on her way, saying she now feels safe.
When Cooper asked Hanshaw if she was scared to leave the center, she said she wasn’t. The only family she ever knew of was Harvey Yoder, who Cooper said she met through foster care.
“She didn’t know people when she moved here, but she got to know them,” Cooper said. “She has more friends here.”