KEN-CREST CENTERS Agency celebrates a century of providing hope

The nonprofit organization provides services to the mentally disabled.
PIPERSVILLE, Pa. (AP) -- Bill Eitler isn't feeling well. He'd like to be left alone.
"Get the key. Get the key," says the 33-year-old Bucks County man, who's been locked in the cocoon of autism since age 2. To Eitler, key means door; he'd like visitors to use it, and they do.
Once termed low-functioning, Eitler lives at home in Pipersville and makes himself understood with help from specialists dispatched by Ken-Crest Centers in Plymouth Meeting. He's one of 6,500 people being served by the agency as it logs its 100th year.
The nonprofit organization, with a $60 million budget and 1,350 workers, provides services to the mentally disabled in Delaware and Southeastern Pennsylvania. Referrals come through the counties.
A slow process
The agency's attention and $20,000 to $30,000 the state spends a year for his care have made a big difference, says his mother, Lynn Weber; once withdrawn, Eitler is giving hints of the rich inner life he leads.
"We're cautiously excited," says Weber, 58. "When you see the outward behaviors of an autistic individual, that's not necessarily who they are."
His mother and Robert C. Weber, 74, Eitler's stepfather, believe that coaching from Ken-Crest workers is giving Eitler the courage to "join us in our world."
He can ask his parents to "go in the car, please," and for "my book, please." He makes food choices, and describes how he feels, instead of becoming agitated.
"It's positively a slow process," says Lynn Weber. "You have to give them confidence and love them, and allow them to be who they are."
In Eitler's case, that means being a person with a lively curiosity and sense of humor, his mother says. No one knew that until recently.
Ken-Crest worker Terry Johns, 56, has been serving as companion to Eitler since 1993. He's the link to the outside world, stimulating Eitler's social development.
Instructor Sharon Wenzel, 49, comes to the Webers' Pipersville home for three hours two days a week. Working with bright-colored charts, books and games, Wenzel stimulates Eitler's mind.
"Bill loves books," Wenzel says.
She guides him in making choices, often getting his attention with sounds. Someday, Wenzel hopes, Eitler will be able to communicate by pointing to letters on a keyboard.
Autism is a developmental disorder that strikes the brain, usually in the first three years of life, according to the Autism Society of America.
It delays the onset of social and language skills, and can interfere with how a person experiences life and responds to others, although thinking may be unaltered, the society says. There is no cure. Weber said Eitler developed normally until age 2. Then, everything changed.
"One day he was verbalizing, and the next day there was a sound coming out of his mouth, and he was clinging to me and crying," Weber says. "It was not a good time."
Eitler attended special-education classes as a small child. He lived at Elwyn Institute in Delaware County from ages 10 to 20, before autism was well understood or home-care programs existed for autistic children, his mother says.
When Weber brought Eitler home in 1991, he was aggressive, mistrustful and remote.
Weber, then a single parent, appealed to Bucks County's mental health office, which recommended a group home in Sellersville, where he went briefly, and, later, placement at home.

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