The Verland Story


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Verland currently operates 45 homes.  Individuals living in our homes have needs for significant support in all areas of development. 

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The Verland Story

Who We Are

Born in human compassion, Verland was raised from a vision to reality by three dedicated and loving women - each with an unstinting belief in her own capacity to make a difference.

The Verland Story conveys their consuming belief; and their devotion to God, to the sanctity of all life, and to three dear children whose personal challenges and triumphs ultimately reshaped the destinies of so many.

Pieces of a Puzzle: Social Change

After generations of political indifference and even disdain, there emerged a rare window of opportunity to enact social change.

The year was 1967, and institutions that had been previously thought impervious to progress were now vulnerable.

Before Verland's founders ever crossed paths, their personal urge to create something pure and beautiful for all people with mental retardation, not just their own loved ones, was burning within their hearts and minds.

"Verland might not have come into being if the three of us had not met one another," says Theo Hanzel of herself, Carol Mitchell (now CEO of Verland), and Nancy Chalfant.

Our Story

It was Nancy's love for her daughter Verlinda, Theo's devotion to her son Andrew's memory, and Carol's love and concern for a young boy named David Tresch that fueled the groundbreaking vision that became Verland.

In retrospect, Theo referred to the merging of their causes as "...a great jigsaw puzzle with all the pieces falling together." These were three immensely empathetic women who understood one another's pain and dreams.

However, it takes more than empathy and noble intentions to alter a stubborn and defensive status quo, and ultimately to forge the level of innovative personal services now present at Verland. In truth, there were many fortuitous twists and turns necessary for the personalities associated with Verland to realize the kind of success that had eluded other similarly inspired souls.

Carol, Nancy, and Theo brainstormed for hours upon hours, and finally determined that through faith and trust in God, they would form a new corporation.

The mission of this corporation would be to build a new environment in which intellectually disabled people, with or without physical disabilities, could enjoy all the safety, care, respect, and dignity of home.

Fittingly, the name "Verland" is a composite of the names Verlinda, Andrew, and David.
Soon after the development of the Verland concept, Carol Mitchell learned of some prime property on a hilltop near Sewickley, Pennsylvania. The property was owned by a generous woman named Helen Grove, an activist who had been deeply concerned for the needs of young people at risk.

When Carol explained the need for a new facility to support people with intellectual disability and physical disabilities, Helen showed immediate interest.

She remarked, "I have been praying about what to do with my property. I believe this land belongs to God, and it would be a great joy to me to know that He wants me to use it in such a way. I would like to give it to you in honor of my husband, Don."

It came to pass that this divinely-inspired, community-minded woman donated thirteen acres of wooded land overlooking a pond to Verland. The three founders remain convinced to this day that only faith could have produced such a miracle.
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

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.

Opening Day

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.
Today, Verland is a thriving, multi-faceted organization that continues to reflect its humane origins, as well as the ever-evolving needs of those whom it supports.

To this day, many consider the maternal love behind Verland's painstaking conception to be its defining characteristic.

If we are to be judged as a society by how we treat those the most vulnerable among us, Verland and its dedicated staff live the requirements of this precept every day.