In 1959, CareLink Community Support Services was founded as Tricounty Fountain Center (TFC) by Marcella I. Schmoeger in Lansdowne, PA. Ms. Schmoeger was determined to offer shelter and support to people who had been hospitalized with psychiatric disabilities and had no homes to which they could return. Her concern that programs respect the abilities, interests, and choices of the people in services was unique at the time. CareLink’s services continue to show that people with disabilities can live, work, and participate fully in the community when they receive respectful, structured, and supportive services.
The first of TFC’s services was a social club formed in 1959 by people with mental illnesses under the guidance of Ms. Schmoeger. Known as the Fellowship Resocialization Program, the service stressed the importance of friendship and social support when learning the skills needed for successful community living. The program was so successful that the Delaware County Mental Health/Mental Retardation Board funded it in 1972 as an effective psychosocial rehabilitation tool. CareLink has strong roots in the development of psychiatric rehabilitation, and we continue to exemplify its techniques and values today.
From the start, TFC also recognized the importance of meaningful daytime activity in a person’s recovery. The Work Evaluation Program was formalized in 1973, and was the forerunner of the agency’s current Career Services program. TFC’s innovation in vocational rehabilitation for people with serious mental illness was recognized in 1979 when the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (PA OVR) funded the first Transitional Employment Placement Program in the state to help people find and keep jobs in the community. A grant from the PA OVR helped TFC open a small janitorial business in 1983 to provide additional work training and paid experience. The agency’s range of services continued to expand with the first Supported Education services in the region in 1984.
The core of Ms. Schmoeger’s original mission was to provide safe, supportive housing for people who had experienced serious mental illness. She fought restrictive local zoning ordinances with grassroots advocacy to open the agency’s first residential services in Lansdowne, PA in 1965. By 1974, the agency purchased a second site in Lansdowne for residential services and in 1980, Delaware County MH/MR agreed to fund the Moderate Care Services program. The need for more structured services was growing and in 1986, the grassroots fundraising efforts of local families helped renovate Torrey House in Haverford, PA as a 24-hour supervised residence.
Growth of Community Health
The importance of community mental health services began to change significantly during the 1970s and 1980s. A growing number of people could be served in the community thanks to new medications and better supports. In 1989, Delaware County recognized the need for residential services for people whose illness was more severe, but who did not need long-term hospitalization. The Special Needs Program opened initially at Torrey House and was followed by a new full-care program in Crum Lynne, PA. Both programs are funded through the cooperative efforts of Delaware County and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. By the end of 1989, the agency provided housing to 43 people and had a staff of approximately 40.
With the closing of Philadelphia State Psychiatric Hospital at Byberry (commonly known as Byberry) in 1990, CareLink experienced tremendous growth to meet the accelerating need for community services for people with serious mental illness. The agency added the STAR (Short-Term Assessment and Rehabilitation) residential program in a building on the campus of Norristown State Hospital. STAR was designed to be a short-term assessment residence for individuals discharged from Byberry with the goal of assessing each individual’s service needs and making a referral to the most appropriate community-based services. In 1992, the focus of STAR was changed to meet the needs of a population of men who lived with both mental illness and problem sexual behavior. A licensed day treatment program was opened within the building to meet the clinical needs of the residents, as well as others living outside STAR.
The Senior Supported Living (SSL) residence was opened in 1992 for older individuals leaving Byberry; many of these individuals had resided in the state hospital for more than 30 years. In 1994, CareLink received a contract from the Chester County Office of Mental Health to provide residential services to four men who were leaving Haverford State Hospital; these men moved into the Marsh Creek residence. Within the next few years, three additional residences were opened in Chester County and one residence in Montgomery County.
Responding to New Opportunities
The agency changed its name to CareLink Community Support Services in 1995, as its Board of Directors felt the new name better reflected the variety of supportive services provided.
Supported housing services were added to CareLink’s growing array of services in the 2000s. Supported housing staff assists individuals in procuring their own apartments and provide the necessary assistance and services to support the individual’s stability and success in the house environment of their choice. In 2009, CareLink was awarded a contract to offer 24-hour, staff-supported residential services in the state of New Jersey.
Today, CareLink Community Support Services employs around 400 full- and part-time counselors, rehabilitation specialists, and clinicians, and serves participants in 27 community programs in Delaware, Chester, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties in Pennsylvania, and Camden County, New Jersey.