By Scott Campbell
“Being here is a privilege,” says Jodie Smiley. “Here” is Paxton Ministries, located in a mixed commercial and residential neighborhood along Harrisburg’s busy Paxton Street. Originally constructed by the Brethren in Christ denomination as Messiah Home, the red brick structure acquired its current moniker and mission when Messiah Home relocated to Upper Allen Township. There, it grew into the sprawling retirement complex known as Messiah Village.
“Paxton Ministries has been at this location for 32 years,” says Smiley. “This is a home for people with few options. Most of our residents have mental and/or intellectual disabilities. Many come from poverty. At Paxton, they and their families know that they will be cared for very well. ‘Housing, Help, and Healing in the name of Christ’ is our tagline. We provide more than just a bed and meals for our residents.”
Smiley has been executive director at Paxton for a little more than three years. The 58-year-old woman calls her present position an “encore” career. Her first one was with IBM. After graduating from Messiah College with a mathematics degree, she spent 33 years with the company in tech support, sales and management.
Smiley’s introduction to nonprofits like Paxton came while she was still employed at IBM. “In 2006, I was the founding board chair in establishing the Harrisburg area chapter of Bridge of Hope,” she says. “The organization helps to find housing and work for homeless women with children. I believe that my experience with Bridge of Hope was God’s plan, furnishing the background necessary to do my current job.”
Paxton Ministries is a licensed personal care home, not a medical facility. “We just hired our first part-time LPN,” notes Smiley. “And we have an arrangement with PinnacleHealth that provides doctor visits twice a month, as well as other related services. Our staff is attuned to the physical and mental health needs of our residents, who range in age from 32 to 82. They know when something is wrong with a particular resident.”
That close relationship is nurtured throughout each day. “The staff and residents eat together. Administrative doors, including mine, are most always open,” says Smiley. “Our support coordinators monitor each resident.”
The building on Paxton Street is the Ministry’s primary facility, but there are three others located in the area. “We have an apartment building and two lodges,” says Smiley. “They are for more independent people, capable of managing the requirements of daily life. There are no on-site staffers. The residents provide their own meals and see to their medications.”
About half of Paxton Ministries’ operating budget is supplied by the residents, who pay based on their income. “Another 20 to 25 percent of our budget is provided by Dauphin County,” says Smiley, “while the balance comes from voluntary donations and grants.”
Introducing the community to Paxton is one of Smiley’s prime activities. She visits churches and service groups, among others, to spread the word. “Paxton Ministries has been a well-kept secret,” she quips. “We’re changing that.”
For more information, visit paxtonmin.org.