By Eileen Bailey
FULTON – For more than 30 years, Johnnie Kelso of Mantachie has worked to improve the quality of life for individuals with developmental disabilities.
Because of her work with North Mississippi Regional Services of Oxford and its clients, Kelso was honored Thursday afternoon in Fulton during a ceremony to announce that the latest community home was named for her.
Kelso, a corporate secretary at Journal Publishing Co., said she and her husband, Hal, began their work with individuals with developmental disabilities when their son Paul Andrew Kelso was born.
Her son, who is mentally challenged, is a resident at the Briar Ridge Community Home in Tupelo, one of five other homes in North Mississippi that house mentally challenged residents. “We had no idea when Andy was born the impact it would have on our lives,” Kelso said.
More than 200 friends and family members, including her oldest son, David, his wife and three children, along with coworkers and residents of Itawamba County attended the event in front of the five-bedroom home on Access Road in Fulton.
“I am so humbled by all of this,” Kelso said as she stood next to her family and friends. “I know I am emotional about this, but it is something that is so dear to my heart.”
Kelso has worked with numerous organizations that promote support for those residents who are mentally challenged. She served three terms as chair of the state Board of Mental Health. She also has worked with the Regional Rehabilitation Center in Tupelo and Friends of the North Mississippi Regional Center in Oxford.
Over the years, one of the things Kelso supported was the establishment of community homes for the mentally challenged. These homes are an effort to provide the residents with some independence and keep them close to their families. The homes, Kelso said, would not have been possible without state support.
“Without the Senate and Legislature, not the first brick would have been laid,” she said. “I know the efforts you have made and I know you are dedicated to our special people.”
Kelso also credited the parents of special people for their support and determination to help the ones they love. Without that, she said, group homes, like the one in Fulton, would not have been possible.
Roger McMurtry, chief of the Bureau of Mental Health in the state Department of Mental Health, said Kelso does what it takes to get “great things done.”
“She is a woman with a real supportive nature,” he said. “She is a doer and has the ability to think clearly and think things through.”
About the home
Dr. Carole B. Haney, director of the North Mississippi Regional Center, said the Johnnie S. Kelso Rosedale Community Home is the sixth home completed. It is the first in Fulton and will be followed by five other homes in Northeast Mississippi within the next year and a half, including another in Fulton.
The Kelso home houses 10 women and has 24-hour staff supervision for residents, Haney said. The property for the home was donated by the Itawamba Association for the Rights of Citizens with Developmental Disabilities, she said.
The residents of the home, which opened to residents Dec. 5, 1995, work at Itawamba Industries, a work activity center in Fulton also operated by the North Mississippi Regional Center.
Cheryl Turner, acting director for the home, said the environment provides the clients with supervised assistance. Each client is given goals, activities and chores to work on while in the home. “We hope to help them reach independence,” she said.