1971 EARS employee revisits past

By on August 1, 2012

By: TIFFANY WOODALL Review Staff twoodall.eph@lnpnews.com, Staff Writer

Theresa (Cody) Hodson, 83, an original employee of Ephrata Area Rehabilitation Services and current resident at Garden Spot Village, poses with Carl Risser at the Cloister Avenue building. (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)

It’s been more than four decades since 83-year-old Theresa (Cody) Hodson was hired as the first-ever workshop supervisor at Ephrata Area Rehabilitation Services (EARS), but her recent visit to the Cloister Avenue facility brought back memories of her former occupation.

Hodson had just become a licensed practical nurse and was serving children and adults with severe handicaps at Devereux Foundation in West Chester, Pa., when a job opening in Ephrata caught her attention. A simple advertisement in a Lancaster newspaper changed her life.

"This was a dream job," said Hodson, "one I always hoped I would find some day."

Richard E. Darby, former executive director of Cecil County Training Center for the Handicapped Inc., hired Hodson to run the EARS workshop. He later wrote a letter of recommendation for Hodson, which included a comprehensive list of her responsibilities at EARS. Among the items listed was "study and implementation of work simplification and labor-saving methods of production," as well as "inventory control."

"When I read that I think, ‘how did I do it all?’" said Hodson of her duties. When she left the job in 1971 and moved to Fairbanks, Alaska after remarrying, three people were hired as her replacements, she said.

Because Hodson had experience working with severely handicapped individuals, she was well prepared for her role at EARS, she said. According to her, the most intimidating part of the job was working with Amish and Mennonite women, whom she had never interacted with while living in West Chester.

Hodson was recently divorced when she assumed her position at EARS and was worried whether or not she would be accepted, she said. She received a warm welcome from her colleagues and made only one request regarding acclamation to her new job: "tell me the truth." The only thing Hodson needed to know was the truth about individuals’ needs and abilities; she didn’t want to expect too much or too little of anyone, she said.

One young man in particular made an impression on her, and she was able to reconnect with him during her visit. Carl Risser, who is now in his fifties, is the same as she remembers him, she said.

"Carl was the fun one in the group," said Hodson. "That’s why I remember him."

She shared a memory of Carl in which she and other colleagues became frantic during a field trip to the park because Carl had gone missing. It turned out he was just playing hide and seek with them, and she found him in a set of bushes.

Moments like that were Hodson’s favorites, she said. She enjoyed never knowing what to expect, and that "you just knew something fun was going to happen."

In addition to becoming bigger, EARS has changed since its inception, said Hodson. All the individuals Hodson served at EARS lived at home and would be dropped off and picked up by family members. Now, about half of the individuals live at home, and they’re picked up by a shuttle.

"A lot of what we once did is now done by machinery," said Karen Hummel, director of marketing and development for EARS. Individuals participate in projects such as assembling educational kits, which include a coloring book, crayons and pencil sharpener, among other items. Individuals will work together or on their own, depending on their interests and capabilities.

One thing Hodson learned from working at EARS is unconditional love: "They just want you to let them love you, and that’s it," she said. "There’s no more rewarding job than that, that’s for sure."

Hodson returned to the area in 2002 and currently resides at Garden Spot Village. More EARS, page A7

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