Organization marks 35 years of providing aid to disabled

Change started by group of parents seeking support

May 23, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A county organization that sprang from a group of parent volunteers seeking services and activities for their children celebrated 35 years of providing support and employment for severely disabled adults Friday.

Change Inc. traces its roots back a half-century to a time when developmentally disabled children had few options for education or socialization outside their homes. The public schools would not accept them, and their only alternative to home care was a crowded state institution.

From a parent-led organization with fewer than 40 clients, the group has grown to serve more than 180 from its center in Westminster, and it has a staff of more than 100. Its $3.5 million budget is nearly 20 times the original amount set aside for the program. A fleet of 16 small buses and vans has replaced the station wagon that once transported clients.

Along the way, the group that began life in the basement of the county library has helped hundreds of families by offering their adult children quality care, employment and a chance to spend time with their peers.

Friday's anniversary luncheon featured bouquets for clients Danny Selby, Bill Hollinger and Peggy Shifler, all of whom have been with Change Inc. since 1969.

"This effort began with people like the Hollingers, the Selbys and the Shiflers who wanted something better for their children," said Richard Glaser, executive director. "They ensured viable alternatives for many more families. We salute these revolutionaries."

Spurred by anger

The group's founders included Geneva and Sterling Selby, who had been told by a doctor in the 1950s that there was nothing available for their son, who has cerebral palsy and mental retardation.

"The doctor told us to put Danny in an institution and forget him," Sterling Selby said. "It made me angry. He is our first child, and we were always so proud of him."

The Selbys and several other parents banded together and started the Carroll County Association for Retarded Citizens in 1954. The parents cleaned out the basement of the county library, hired a teacher and provided nearly all the other services.

The program expanded to a one-room school in Taylorsville, where parents helped organize more activities. The organization took on the name Change Inc. in 1969 and later moved to Stoner Avenue in Westminster.

"We never knew there were so many handicapped children because they were kept at home," said Miriam Hollinger, whose son, Bill Hollinger, 56, sustained brain damage in infancy. "The program really multiplied, and we gave children like ours somewhere to go."

Change Inc. "provides a great day program, including swimming every day, and a great quality of life," said Kay Pitts, a Change volunteer whose 26-year-old son, Michael Pitts, has been in the program for five years. "This is not baby-sitting. There are individual plans for each client and activities all day."

Work is available

Clients who are able may work on various employment projects as well as on crafts and personal care activities.

Change Inc. recently launched a campaign to raise $1 million for another expansion, hoping to add more space for its work contracts, such as mesh bags filled with barley straw and cookie boxes that clients put together. The organization also recently bought a home in Gamber and has converted it into a respite inn for families.

"We really need room to expand," said William R. MacDonald, president of Change's board of directors. "Our population is increasing, and they are in need of these services."

Change Inc. is "a godsend for the parents and for all the children involved," Hollinger said. "It has enhanced my son's life. He has work and a happy, sociable life."

Geneva Selby said, "This place has made life as normal as possible for Danny and for us. It gave him a place to go every day. It has given him a good life."

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