Paul White leads the Waisman Center’s community outreach

Dee J. Hall, Wisconsin State Journal

Paul White has been a key player in helping people with developmental disabilities in Dane County live independently and be included in community life.

When White, 63, a licensed professional counselor, began his career in the 1970s, institutionalization was the fate for many people with cognitive challenges. When the Illinois native moved to the Madison area in 1982, he was the treatment director for a large facility that housed more than 90 people.

White began at the UW-Madison’s Waisman Center in 1986 and now runs Community Outreach Wisconsin (COW), which provides crucial support that allows people with developmental disabilities to stay in their family homes, be successful at school or live independently as adults. COW also works with a spinoff nonprofit, Responsive Solutions Inc., that provides on-call staff to respond to crisis situations.

At a cost of about $2 million a year, the organizations provide services such as in-home nurse checks, adaptive technologies, training for caregivers, psychiatric care and even electronic monitoring so individuals can sleep in their homes without supervision.

The services are free for those who qualify.

White enjoys kayaking and bicycling with his partner, Jacqueline Walisser. The two live in Middleton. White plans to retire at the end of the year.

What brought you to the Waisman Center?

I moved here because I received a job at a program called Orchard Hill (in Fitchburg). … It was the old way of providing services for people with developmental disabilities … 96 adults, living in eight cottages, 12 to a cottage. Years ago, it was institutional care, like Central (Wisconsin) Center. And then it was community-based care, so people moved to more thoughtful, humane living situations. … That was the beginning of people with developmental disabilities moving to the community. … I was recruited (by Waisman) to follow the people to the community. … As I like to say, I was discharged with everyone else.

So you were sort of on the vanguard of that?

Madison was … kind of cutting edge. So we broke down those congregate settings and decided that two people living together, possibly three, would be better in apartments or duplexes, and come in with support. And then, again, Madison was forward-thinking in creating supported employment opportunities for people and breaking down sheltered workshops.

Is Dane County the primary funder for these programs?

We have a wonderful 30-year relationship between Dane County Human Services and the Waisman Center. … What has developed is Dane County comes to us with forward-thinking model programs and … we develop them in a way that can be replicated in other parts of the state. … We have a lean budget and we are often the answer to budget woes.

What is the best thing about what you do?

I think the best thing is when it works. … When we’re doing it right, we’ve improved the lives of people, their families are happy with the effort, and Madison is a better place, because they (people with developmental disabilities) are out and about.