As visionary as it was, imagining Verland was the easy part. Building Verland and making it acceptable to the surrounding community was far more delicate.
The stigma associated with mental and physical disabilities is still very real today. Back in 1970, these prejudices were insidious, and could have proven insurmountable were it not for the diplomacy and perseverance of Verland's founders.
More out of ignorance than out of malice, many people in the immediate area were convinced that Verland's residents would be mentally deranged, roaming freely through the neighborhoods, frightening children and destroying property. Such were the misconceptions that impeded what was already a rocky path, and many contentious town meetings were required before final approval for construction of the Verland Campus was reluctantly given.
It required effort to neutralize this highly charged misinformation and the challenges that it presented. At the same time, Verland’s leadership team needed to address the pressing issues of providing an interim facility, securing funding, and the actual design and construction of Verland.
In May of 1978, The Verland Foundation, Inc. was officially organized, and soon thereafter Verland received a temporary occupancy extension to operate a seventy-bed interim-care facility in the old Allegheny Valley Junior School. Since this location could not house all the original residents, the most capable individuals were placed in private facilities, group homes, and state centers.
Once this was achieved, an even busier time commenced for Carol Mitchell and her new board. Many issues had to be considered, including architectural plans for the new facility and the sale of tax-exempt bonds to provide the funding.
On the day before Thanksgiving in 1979, there was an emotional ground-breaking ceremony in the woods overlooking the pond on Helen Grove's Sewickley property. Verland took its first breath of life.
In January, 1981, Verland formally opened its doors to its residents.
Dedicated to providing a life of dignity for those most seriously challenged, Verland opened ten well-equipped, furnished, and decorated homes for its first seventy residents, providing a life with greater respect for their individual needs and desires than ever thought imaginable. . . . or appropriate.