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Board of DD celebrates 50 years as guardian to disabled

By BARBARA WRABEL • Oct 22, 2017 at 4:00 PM

Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

In the case of the Huron County Board of Developmental Disabilities (HCBDD), a program that began in January 1956 through the vision of a group of parents who wanted the best for their children, continues to change the world for people with disabilities more than 60 years later.

Those parents worked with the Huron County commissioners, school superintendent, health department and welfare department to organize the Huron County Council for Retarded Children and establish a school program, originally housed in the former Children’s Home (later to become the Huron County Human Services building) on Benedict Avenue in Norwalk.

In October 1967, Ohio’s Senate Bill 169 formally created county boards of mental retardation to take over responsibility for education and workshop programs that had previously been run by child or public welfare boards, and HCBDD was born. Two years later, services for adults with disabilities began at the Benedict Avenue location.

In 1967, Huron County voters passed the first levy to provide local funding for services; in 1968, the Huron County commissioners provided land on Christie Avenue in Norwalk for a new school to be built, with matching funds from the state of Ohio. Because of space requirements, the site was changed to South Norwalk Road. Christie Lane School (the name chosen in a contest) opened in September of 1972, offering both school and adult services in the same building. It wasn’t until 1975 that federal law mandated that children with disabilities receive a “free and appropriate education”, nearly 20 years after the school program in Huron County began.

The adult services sheltered workshop program incorporated as Christie Lane Industries (CLI) in 1976, and moved to a new building next to the school in 1981. HCBDD recognized the need for services for younger children, and began an Infant Stimulation program in 1979, which later became the Early Intervention program. The county board eventually took over the Help Me Grow program in Huron County, also geared towards children aged 3 and under.

Flash forward another 20 years or so: Ohio began to offer Medicaid waivers (supplying 60 percent of the funding to the 40 percent coming from local levy dollars) that helped to pay for services to people with disabilities at home, at work and in the community.

HCBDD provided — and still provides or pays for — housing options, jobs in the community with staff support, after-hours recreation opportunities, transportation, volunteer programs and financial support for a multitude of programs and services like Artists’ Open Studio, in-home supports, adaptive equipment, home modifications and therapies for children. The county board operated Christie Lane Industries until July 1, 2016, when state and federal rules prompted a separation and CLI became a private provider of adult day services.

HCBDD continues to provide funding for the services provided by CLI and other day services and residential provider agencies, however, and maintains the Christie Lane School program that is now housed at the Elizabeth Gerken Family & Child Center on Shady Lane in Norwalk.

Every year, HCBDD provides support to more than 600 people, in all life stages, puts more than $750,000 back into local communities and businesses, helps transition school-aged students into the workplace, and assists people with disabilities to become active community members who identify and celebrate their strengths. 

“We consider it an honor to carry forward the vision of that handful of parents that first met in 1956,” said HCBDD superintendent Kari Smith. 

“Their passion, determination and belief in their children set a strong foundation for us, and inspired the community and taxpayer support that has been so steady over the past 60-plus years. We remain absolutely committed to that vision, no matter what changes we might face, as we look to the future together.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Bar­bara Wra­bel serves as com­mu­nity out­reach spe­cial­ist for the Huron County Board of DD.

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