Curtis Hall residential center opens for disabled elderly 30 live in Mount Washington house renovated by The Chimes Inc.


Ida Caplan, 74, says her favorite color is pink. You can see it in her smile, as her pink lipstick complements her dress, sweater, the rims of her glasses, the flower pinned to her chest and even the color of her skin.

It seemed only appropriate that she cut a pink ribbon yesterday to officially open the Curtis Hall Senior Living Center, the first residential center for mentally retarded and physically handicaped older adults.

Just 20 years ago Caplan moved into the now renovated Chimes house in Mount Washington when it became the area's first alternative to institutionalized living for developmentally disabled people.

"I love it here," Caplan said. "I'm proud to be here. I've got a lot of friends and I like everybody." The white-haired Chimes veteran said she enjoys watching movies and bowling, but she's quick to add that her bowling talents will not lead her to the PGA Tour.

Caplan is one of about 30 residents who live in the refinished Chimes house, named after Franklin O. Curtis, the first president of the Chimes, who died in 1983.

The Chimes Inc. is a non-profit organization that began in 1947 as a school for mentally retarded children at Baltimore's Church of the Redeemer. It was named "School of the Chimes" for the calming effect the church bells had on the youngsters.

Since then, the Chimes has expanded to a network that helps 819 persons in 60 locations throughout the Baltimore Metropolitan area.

The organization's 300 member staff provides educational, residential, vocational and rehabilitative services to blind, deaf, crippled, retarded and other developmentally disabled people from 3 to 80 years old.

About $400,000, generated from private revenue bonds and government support, was used to renovate the house, which included work on the elevators, bathrooms, kitchens, furnishings and outside paving.

Unlike many institutions that house disabled people, the Chimes house has no barriers to limit the freedom of its residents.

It's essential that the elderly disabled -- and all of the program's participants -- live with pride and a sense of independence, said Terry Allen Perl, the group's president.

"We respond to a changing constituency," Perl said. "People with disabilities have the capacity to make choices and their needs change throughout life like everyone else.

"Twenty years ago many people weren't living as long as today and people weren't planning for their future," he added. "But the medical technology, treatment and care people are getting today has helped them extend their lives as much as their non-disabled peers."

The Chimes Guild, a group of family members who support the organization, presented Perl with a $20,000 check to support the organization's latest project.

All living conditions at the new location, including the colors of the appliances, are psychologically catered to the residents, according to Sidney Tishler, director of special projects.

Although family members or guardians pay about $30,000 a year for residents to live at the house, the $12 million a year raised by the Chimes is funneled back into the organization's programs.

The success of the program has attracted continued support from the state and federal governments, private businesses and the community, Tishler said.

Nelson J. Sabatini, secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the Chimes' senior living center is a model for other institutions serving the disabled.

"It's the right thing to do and we have to find more ways to do it," Sabatini said. "People deserve to have their needs met and live the rest of their years with pride."

The Chimes Inc. will spread its influence and establish programs in Israel in September, Perl said. He said the government of bTC Israel, in an effort to provide care for its mentally retarded patients, asked the Chimes about a year ago to set up similar facilities in Tel Aviv and Beersheba.

Tishler said he has learned from working with patients at Chimes facilities.

"It's very enlightening," he said. "Who knows what would have become of them if they were kept in institutions."

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