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People First (1981)

People First (1981)

©1981, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Dallas Denny. (1981, September-October). People first. Voice of the Valley, p. 1.






I was working for the state of Tennessee as a psychological examiner when I wrote this short article. People first is an advocacy group for and by people with disabilities. My article announced the formation of a People First group in East Tennessee. Several years later I was in charge of a convoy of three vans filled with staff and developmentally disabled adults; we drove from Greenevlle,  TN to Nashville, where we stayed two days. Read About the Trip for our adventures, and click the tabs to view text and the printed page.


About the Trip

When the members of the East Tennessee chapter of People First asked Superintendent Marjorie Nell Cardwell of Greene Valley Developmental Center to arrange for a trip to the national (I believe it was national) People First convention in Nashville, she put me in charge. Staff and People First members filled three 14-passenger vans.

We drove to Nashville without incident, and the convention went well. As we started home, however, staff and People First members alike begged me to allow our caravan to stop on Music Row so everyone could buy souvenirs. I didn’t feel good about it, but I allowed  thirty minutes. When the time was up, however, one of the People First members—a client at Greene Valley—was nowhere to be found. Staff informed me she was inclined to go walkabout. Why, I asked staff, hadn’t they kept a special eye on her? Staff shrugged. Souvenirs had clearly prevailed over duty.

We phoned the police and asked them to look for our lost friend. While we waited, we took a bathroom break—which was only a little short of an ordealm as we had to maneuver six people in wheelchairs up a steep flight of steps—and ate our evening meal at a cafeteria. By the time we finished eating, our missing member had been found bumming cigarettes in front of the Capitol Records building. The police brought her to us and we drove the long six hours home. We arrived after midnight, six hours behind our estimated arrival time of six p.m.

Superintendent Cardwell wasn’t happy about the temporary loss of one of our party, but thankfully didn’t come down too hard on me.

Voice of the Valley Page

People First, Voice of the Valley, V

People First (Text)

©1981, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Dallas Denny. (1981, September-October). People first. Voice of the Valley, p, 1.


People First

By Dallas Denny


Recently, Mr. Bill Parra, the Assistant Executive Director ARC-T, and Mr. Bill Feltner, a teacher at Rochelle Training and Rehabilitation Center in Nashville, met with the 28 residents who attended the 1980 and 1981 People First conferences and discussed with them the possibility of forming a People First group in this area.

Mr. Feltner and Mr. Parra explained that People First is an international organization with membership open to all developmentally delayed individuals. The name People First represents a statement by handicapped persons that they want to be perceived as people who have something to offer and share. People First is a self-advocacy organization. It is a peer group decision-making organization which helps handicapped persons learn to talk for themselves, listen to others, make decisions, and ultimately develop leadership skills. Non-handicapped “helpers” provide modeling and support.

For many years Greene Valley residents have been participating in the Special Olympics Program. The original site of the Area III competition was the Greene Valley campsite. With the opening of the Mini-Dome at ETSU, the Area III program moved there. The Mini-Dome is one of the finest facilities in the world for such programs and we feel very fortunate.

The Area III program is excellent, however, with so many schools and centers participating, and with so many of the GVDC higher functioning residents moving to the community, GVDC saw a need to have their own year-round program as a lead up to the Area III competition so all possible could participate. Our first campus-wide event was held September 23 and 24. What a thrill it was to observe the wheelchair residents, the senior citizens, the schoolchildren, the youngsters and oldsters all having fun. Ribbons and medals were awarded. Another one has been scheduled for the spring prior to selecting the athletes for the April Area III event at the Mini-Dome.