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New leader of Keystone Human Services hopes to build on founder’s legacy

Charles Hooker III - PHOTO PROVIDED - (Photo / Submitted)

It was the first meal the man had ever chosen for himself, and all he wanted was a pizza.

He is one of many people Keystone Human Services has helped transition out of institutions and into communities since its founding in 1972. After the organization’s staff helped him move into a new home, they asked him what else he needed. Pizza was the only thing he requested.

He is one of the reasons Charles Hooker III has stayed with Keystone for 20 years, and one of the reasons he took on the role of president Nov. 1.

Keystone Human Services is a Harrisburg-based group that helps people with disabilities lead meaningful lives, often by providing them with support staff and, in some cases, helping them transition out of institutions.

Dennis Felty, Keystone’s founder, started looking about six years ago for a successor for the organization he started in 1972. Since then, Keystone has grown from a home for three men on Harrisburg’s Green Street to a multi-country, 3,200-employee organization.

He found that successor in Hooker, who most recently served as Keystone’s senior vice president and president and CEO of its international efforts.

“Mr. Hooker and I have worked very closely over the last 20 years and I am very pleased that Mr. Hooker will be succeeding me as president and CEO,” Felty said in a January news release announcing the transition. “Mr. Hooker possesses the powerful leadership, the essential skills, the values and the passion that this work demands.”

Although Felty will still serve Keystone in some capacities, Hooker plans to build on his legacy and ensure the organization can continue to provide lifetime care for its clients.

Hooker came to Keystone in 1996 after joining the mental health field as a clinician in 1977. His career has spanned a range of health services, including drug and alcohol treatment, and taken him as far south as Florida and as far north as New Hampshire.

He came across the opening at Keystone while looking for a place to settle with his wife and children, who had family in the Harrisburg area.

It worked.

“I felt like I had found the people I needed to work with for the rest of my career,” he said.

His goals for Keystone’s future include expanding services for adults with autism and growing the organization’s work internationally, where it has already developed services in India and the Republic of Moldova.

He also plans to continue advocating for better government funding for mental health services. Keystone, which has a $158 million budget, and other groups like it struggle to retain support staff, he said, in part because talent is going to better-paying fields.

Most importantly, he believes, he hopes to ensure Keystone has the resources to continue care for its clients, many of whom will need Keystone’s services through their entire lives.

Many mental health services started, like Keystone, in the 1970s during a wave of public outcry against conditions at traditional psychiatric institutions. A growing number of their founders are now retiring, exposing their organizations to the possibility of a merger or the risk of closure.

Hooker does not want that to happen at Keystone. The organization’s commitment to creating a smooth succession has helped assure it will not.

“My goal is to make sure we take these last 44 years and add another 45,” he said.

Jennifer Wentz
Jennifer Wentz covers Lancaster County, York County, financial services, taxation and legal services. Have a tip or question for her? Email her at [email protected].

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