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'She's like an angel with a broken wing,' a story of life after institutionalized care

Courtesy of Gwen Parker
Miss Faye and her sister Gwen Parker

In 2020 Virginia officially closed the oldest and largest state-run residential facility for people with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities. Central Virginia Training Center, near Lynchburg, had operated for more than a hundred years. The closure came after a federal investigation alleged Virginia’s system wasn’t providing enough community-based services.

To see what the impact of that closure was, RadioIQ reporter Mallory Noe-Payne visited three women in Chesapeake Virginia. Together they tell the story of what’s possible when families are given an alternative to institutionalized care.

Miss Faye is 65 years old. She likes to eat candy, play with string, and sit in the sunshine listening to the birds. She loves Five Guys, Costco and church. And when I paid her a visit she enjoyed tugging my microphone towards herself, leaning in close and pressing her lips to its felt covering.

Courtesy of Gwen Parker
Miss Faye as a child, alongside her mother

In the 1960’s in Culpeper, Miss Faye was the third child of a single working mother.

“I just remember Faye always wanting to come outside and wanting to run,” recalls her older sister Gwen Parker. “I knew she couldn’t talk but I didn’t know why.” Parker remembers growing up with their grandmother as Faye’s primary caregiver.

“But after my grandmother died I just remember my mother took her away. But I didn’t know what was going on. Cause you didn’t ask questions,” says Parker.

Faye was seven years old when she was institutionalized. And for more than 40 years she lived at the Central Virginia Training Center, or CVTC. She stayed healthy and her family visited. But the environment was hospital-like and there weren’t many opportunities to get out.

“I wish that Faye had been with us longer. I wish she hadn’t stayed there that long. Cause I didn’t really get to know her,” says Parker.

Then in 2012, when Miss Faye was in her 50’s, officials announced plans to close the facility. Parker’s first thought was: Where is my sister going to go?

“It was on my conscience. What’s going to happen?” she says. “And I just remember my mother saying ‘Y’all take care of Faye’ I remember that.”

As we talk Parker sits next to Faye on a couch. She looks over at her sister, a smile on her face. “Right Faye?” she asks, leaning over to kiss her on her check. “You remember that?”

A small smile hovers on Faye’s face. And the woman on her other side lights up. This is Linda Glover.

Courtesy of Gwen Parker
Miss Faye at the beach

“You smiling Miss Lady?” she laughs, leaning over and touching Faye’s face. “Show that smile! Look at that pretty smile!”

Glover is a paid and licensed caregiver, and the answer to that question “What’s going to happen?”

Instead of going to a small group home, or moving to another large facility, Miss Faye was put in something called a sponsored residential placement. It means she lives with Ms. Glover, who has a background in special education, in her home. “Miss Faye is like an angel with a broken wing and I was assigned to take care of her,” says Glover.

She and Miss Faye have a comfortable and easy way of interacting. Glover tells a story of how Miss Faye once had an infection on her toe. Glover would rub an ointment on it daily. One day they were sitting together on the couch.

“And all of a sudden she reached down and grabbed my feet, and she put it in her lap and I said ‘Oh my god!’ She started doing my feet just like I did hers,” Glover recalls, adding that she felt it was Faye’s way of showing her she loves her.

Since living here, Miss Faye has gotten her passport, gone on several cruises, and even ridden a helicopter. The women share photos and videos with me. Faye feeding a giraffe, Faye dancing, Faye sitting at a table with a group of friends on a cruise ship.

“Yes, that's her right there,” says Glover, pointing to the image. “And she got to eat and socialize and everything. Just like we did.”

Miss Faye and her sister live close now and visit often. They get pedicures, have sleepovers, and even travel to see their brother in Florida.

“The first time we got to Florida she did not want to get off that plane,” recalls Parker. “She liked that excitement…. She was just loving all that.”

Miss Faye is one of more than 300 individuals who lived at CVTC. Staff worked for eight years to find new homes for everyone. In addition to CTVC, Virginia also closed three other large “training centers.” All in all, 873 people were discharged and placed in new living situations.

Mallory Noe-Payne is a Radio IQ reporter based in Richmond.