“I like getting up in the morning and going to work.” says Sister James Ann Germuska, founding executive director and chief executive officer of Crosskeys Human Services, Inc. in Brownsville, Pa. “I love my job.”
Crosskeys is a non-profit organization, offering senior adult and mental health services to residents of Fayette County in eight locations. Countless adults have been served through Crosskeys seven programs which include residential and day programs, social rehabilitation, supportive housing and two senior centers.
Sister James Ann explains that two persons have remained constant for her in this ministry. “The first person called upon in every venture was and is God,” she says. “The second is Commissioner Fred L. Lebder who has supported me and Crosskeys in countless ways.”
Crosskeys traces its roots from simple beginnings. After St. Peter’s Parish convent in Brownsville was closed, the pastor, Father Edward Higgins, found himself with an empty building. He had the desire to use it as a senior center and needed someone to begin the project. Since the Sisters of St. Francis staffed the school for 60 years, Father Higgins wanted to continue a Franciscan presence. Sister James Ann was asked to take on this assignment and arrived in Brownsville amid a major snow storm on Super Bowl Sunday in 1975.
The first thing she did was to begin an activity club which met three times a week. She connected with various agencies in the area and pursued avenues that would lead to federal funding. And as “they” say, the rest is history.
Recognizing the need for mental health care in the county, she began expanding services. “I love dealing with mental health,” says Sister James Ann. “It’s where my heart is. And there’s really a need. It was often put in the background. I treat our consumers as they are okay and this is no different than a physical illness.”
At the Crosskeys drop-in center, Sister James Ann says individuals are transported from their homes or personal care homes and are involved in structured activities such as exercise, arts and crafts, baking, and outings. Another offering is the social rehabilitation program, a voluntary, on-going support group designed to assist mental health consumers to attain their optimum level of self-sufficiency. It includes pre-vocational training with basic adult education designed to increase self-esteem and insight.
The psychiatric rehabilitation program helps individuals to function as independently as possible by learning specific skills of living, learning, working or socializing as related to their particular goal such as getting a job, entering college or finding an apartment.
Jane Loveland, who has served as mental health coordinator at Crosskeys for 30 years says she enjoys seeing the progress that the consumers make. “Crosskeys wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for her (Sister James Ann),” she says. Her enthusiasm for the job is one thing, but her great compassion for the consumers and staff and her empathy for everyone — I can’t say enough.”
Louise Hicks, administrative assistant and privacy officer agrees. “I’ve learned a lot from her. She’s compassionate. Her knowledge and spirituality are so important.”
Sister James Ann believes in the value of a happy work environment for the team of 41 people with whom she ministers. “The staff is the most important part of the program. They are the front line,” she says. “What we do is a corporate effort.”
For Sister James Ann, this ministry is at the heart of what it means to be a Franciscan. “We owe so much to people – caring for the unfortunate, the disenfranchised and dealing with mental health problems,” she says. “A person with a mental disability can achieve anything with that disability that he/she could achieve without it given the proper medication and opportunity.”
She remarks that her 38 years at Crosskeys don’t seem long because there is always something new.
“I’m challenged when I can learn something new and be on top of it.” In January 2014, a mobile component will be added to the site-based psychiatric rehabilitation program. Qualified staff will meet with individuals either at their home or at another location in the community in an effort to help those in need of continued support.
In October 2013, Sister James Ann was nominated by the staff and received an award from the NAACP which seems to sum up her ministry. It reads: In recognition of your outstanding dedication, commitment and exemplary leadership in the field of human services to the Fayette County community. For the unknown challenges that lie ahead, there is no doubt Sister James Ann will meet each one head on.