Attitude and freedom Center guides people with disabilities to independence.

Posted: June 22, 2003

NEWTOWN SQUARE — Federal laws have increased opportunities for people with disabilities, but only a change of attitude will bring equality.

That's the belief of Ann Cope, executive director of the Freedom Valley Disability Center, a nonprofit organization serving the needs of people of all ages with mental and physical disabilities. The goal of the center, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, is to help people with disabilities find independence and acceptance in the community.

"Some day they will build a ramp to the moon, but the last obstacle to fall will be attitude," Cope said.

"It's often easier for a person with a disability to find a job than a dance partner."

The center assists individuals and families living in Delaware, Chester, Bucks and Montgomery Counties through peer support, information referral, independent living skills training, and advocacy. Twice-monthly support groups, focused on individual needs and community activism, are held at various locations in the counties.

Cope, 50, of Middletown, has been director of the Freedom Valley Disability Center since 1988, when it was a satellite of a Philadelphia group, Liberty Resources. Like most of her six-member staff, she has a physical disability - an attribute that gives her a unique insight into her work.

"In life, we all aim for the same goals, and we each have different ways to achieve them," Cope said.

"People want to have control over their own lives."

Control comes in a variety of forms, said Cope, who, born with a physical disability that she says has no name, uses a wheelchair, and has lived both independently and with family.

Some people want to live in their own apartment. The center helps them find accessible housing, transportation, and, if needed, a personal-care assistant.

Others might want to live in a group home or with family, yet they still need to develop independence, she said.

"A child can leave high school or return home from college and fall into a routine of allowing mom and dad to do so much they become codependent," Cope said.

"They need to get into the community, have a job and social activities to be, quote, like everyone else, end quote, and that codependency will be broken."

Recently, a visit from a student who has a physical disability made staff members aware of the impact of their work, Cope said.

"At the end of the visit, the staff felt we didn't spend enough one-on-one time with the young woman because we were so busy with work," Cope said.

"Later, her mother said, 'You can't imagine what you did for my daughter. Seeing all of you working made her realize that she, too, can have a job.' "

It's a lesson that Juanita Benson, 79, of Warminster, shares with the community as a volunteer mentor for the center. Benson has been physically disabled since she suffered a spinal cord injury 25 years ago.

"I refuse to sit and wait for three meals and my last breath when there is so much to do everyday," Benson said.

Benson's mentoring brought her into the life of a student with a mental disability. By encouraging the girl to challenge herself, Benson said, she became a peer leader.

"It's most important to know you can accomplish whatever you want; you just have to do it in a different way," Benson said.

Marcia Tarra of Westtown came to the Freedom Valley Disability Center seeking information on computer training for her son, Robert, 26, a paraplegic.

"I need the center to get information, to get my foot in the door of where he needs to be," Tarra said.

"It's hard to get information without a place like this."

As proof of the power of independence and peer support, Cope explained that a person with a disability from a brain injury wrote the press release that brought the Tarras and about 30 other families to an open house.

"Since opening, we have served about 1,000 people," Cope said. "It's all about the individual person. Helping them to set goals and achieve them."


Cindy Holms, 55, of Broomall, coordinator of the Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Program for the Delaware County Intermediate Unit, has won the Woman of Distinction award from the Alpha Xi Delta Sorority.

Send people news to Gloria A. Hoffner, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 800 River Rd., Conshohocken, Pa, 19428; e-mail it to:; or fax it to: 610-313-8227. Contact Gloria A. Hoffner at 610-313-8006 or

Public Service

Delaware County Women Against Rape 24 hour hotline for victims of sexual assault; educational programs available to schools, professionals & community groups. 610-566-4342.

Doantions for Military Personel Wayne Senior Center seeks individuals to send letters, non perishables, toiletries to troops in Gulf. 108 Station Rd, Wayne; 610-688-6246. Call center for details & mailing address.

Food Drive Interfaith Coalition of Food Centers in Delaware County accepting donations at various locations. Call for specific locations. Main Office: 700 Morton Ave, Chester; 610-874-4132.

Free Lunches for Kids For all children residing in Chichester School District. Linwood Elementary School, 1515 Huddle Ave & Marcus Hook Elementary School, 8th & Market Sts., ; 610-485-6881. 11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m. 6/23-8/1. No lunches served 7/3-7/4.

Generation To Generation Special program pairs young adult with senior citizen interested in learning computer & internet skills. Haverford Twp Free Library, 1601 Darby Rd, Haverford; 610-446-3082 ext 207.

Marcus Hook Children's Learning Center Seeks used cell phones, empty printer cartridges for fund new playground fundraiser. Drop off: Learning Center, 46 E 10th St, Marcus Hook; 610-494-2009. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mons-Fris. Meet the School Board Candidates Primary candidates for School Director in Marple & Newtown Twps answer taxpayers' questions; Taxpayers of Education Accountability (TEA) sponsor. 610-356-4850.

Toiletries Sought For military personnel; Marple Newtown Clergy Assoc sponsors. Dropoff: St Mark's United Methodist

Church, 2220 S Sproul Rd, Broomall; 610-356-9581.

West Whiteland Twp Parks & Recreation Discount tickets to area ski resorts at Rec Dept. Call ahead before pick-up. 110 West Boot Rd, Exton; 610-363-9525.

Volunteer Calls

Barnstormers Theatre Volunteers needed for public relations, fundraising & crew. Barnstormers Playhouse, Ward & Tome St, Ridley Park; 610-461-9969. Delaware County Women Against Rape Volunteers needed for 24 hr Hotline, to support victims at hopitals & in court. Training provided. 610-566-4342.

Golf Tournament Includes box lunch, food, gift bags, contests & prizes; Women's Association for Women's Alternatives sponsors. Golf Course at Glenn Mills, 221 Glen Mills Rd, Glen Mills; 610-543-5022. $550 foursome; $300 pairs; $150 individuals. 10 a.m. practice. 1 p.m. registration. 2 p.m. tournament. 6/23.

Thresholds in Delaware Co Volunteers needed to teach decision-making skills to inmates in local prisons. Widener University, Walnut St, Chester; 610-459-9384.

Religion Calendar

Penn Wynne Presbyterian Church 130 Haverford Rd, Wynnewood; 610-642-1308. "Thank God It's Friday Mom's Survival Group." 9 a.m. Fris (except during school vacations).

Chosen Vessels Women's Ministry Monthly fellowship for women; Church Of The Overcomer hosts. First Baptist Church, Ridley Ave & Ward St, Ridley Park; 610-521-0186. Real Men Need...Real Men: monthly fellowship for men. 10 a.m.-11:30 a.m. 1st Sat of month.


Book Discussion Group Newtown Library, Bishop Hollow Rd, Newtown Square; 610-356-7981. 2 p.m. 3d Sun of month.

Borders Book Groups. 1001 Baltimore Pike, Springfield; 610-343-8588. Adventures in Spirit: sprititual & metaphysical books. 7 p.m. 3d Thu of month.

Glenolden Library 211 S Llanwellyn Ave, Glenolden; 610-583-1010. Book Discussion Group. 1:30 p.m. 3d Thu of month.

Hebrew Speaking Group Open to all who wish to practice speaking Hebrew. Borders, 80 E Wynnewood Ave, Wynnewood; 610-642-0362. 7-9 p.m. Weds.

No Kidding! Chester County social group for adults without children holds various events. 610-486-6858.

Speakers Club Sunday Breakfast Speakers Club. Wyndham Suites Hotel, 888 Chesterbrook Blvd, Wayne; 610-408-8351. 8:45 a.m. 3d Sun of month.

Toastmasters Delaware County Group meets. Delaware County Chamber of Commerce, 602 E Baltimore Pike, Media; 610-459-3717 & 610-284-5430. 7-9 p.m. Weds.

University Women American Assoc of Univer Women/Valley Forge chapter. Tredyffrin Library, 582 Upper Gulph Rd, Wayne; 610-296-9392.

Writers' Club of Delaware County Monthly meeting. Church of the Redeemer, Springfield Rd, Springfield; 610-586-0930. 11 a.m. 6/24.

Seminars & Classes

Art Lectures By art historian Dr Lori Verderame. 888-431-1010. Registration required.

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation CPR classes. Delaware County Community College, 85 N Malin Rd, Broomall; 610-359-7387. Registration required.

Clowning for Charity Learn basics of clowning for fundraisers. Residence At Glen Riddle, 263 Glen Riddle Rd, Media; 610-446-7124 or 610-356-6423. $75 10-wk course. Various times & days. Thus. Registration required.

Computer Classes 4-wk classes; computer training & access. Neighbor to Neighbor Community Development Corp, 814 Clifton Ave, Sharon Hill; 610-461-8140. $20. 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Sats, or 6-7:30 p.m. Tues. Registration required.

CPR & First Aid Classes Delaware County Memorial Hospital (Medical Office Bldg Conference Center), 501 N Lansdowne Ave, Drexel Hill; 610-284-8158. Call for schedule, fees.

Main Line Art Center All-age art classes, workshops. Old Buck Rd & Lancaster Ave, Haverford; 610-525-0272. Call for information. Registration required.

Middletown Twp Recreation Dept 215-750-3890. Cardio Fitness classes. Mons, Thus & Sats. Yoga classes. Thus. Call for for fees, times, locations. Registration required.

Tyler Arboretum 515 Painter Rd, Media; 610-566-9134 ext 212. Pruning Spring-Flowering Shrubs. $12. 10 a.m.-noon 6/28. Registration required.

Women's Resource Center 113 W Wayne Ave, Wayne; 610-687-6391. Programs for women in transition. Registration required.

Business Seminars

Business Classes Delaware County Chamber of Commerce, 602 E Baltimore Pike, Media; 610-565-3677. $20 per program. 8-10 a.m. Registration required.

Middletown Twp Recreation Dept 215-750-3890. Call for information. Registration required.

For Information

The Freedom Valley Disability Center, 3607 Chapel Rd. in Newtown Square, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. For more information, call the center at 610-353-6640 or 1-800-427-4754.

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