As we celebrate 65 years of advocacy and service on the south shore, I would like to take a moment to remember our founders and acknowledge the vision and courage they showed back in the early 1950’s. In describing historical circumstances the words mental retardation are used. Even though this term is not used now it was part of our name and history. I do not mean to offend anyone. In the 50’s there were no community services for parents who had children with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Parents had two choices: keep the child home with no outside help or support or have the child put in an institution, where care and nurturing was seriously lacking. A 1953 report of the Special Commission on Mental Retardation documented that “In many institutions, ward coverage’s were at dangerously low levels, and it was not uncommon to find one person on night duty in a dormitory containing over 100 boys and girls.”
Our founders, a courageous group of parents said these options were not acceptable and set out to create their own services. They had been meeting at the old Clapp memorial school since 1950 when in May 1951 they incorporated as a nonprofit organization named the South Shore Chapter of the Association for Advancement of Exceptional Children. The Founding officers were: Florence and Herbert Cushing, David Barrie, Phyllis Moran, J. Edward Harris Jr, Elisabeth Fraser, Edward J. Bourque, Dorothy Petitti, and Allan Power. Their mission was to promote the welfare of exceptional children and their parents. They planned to do this by providing educational programs, home training, recreational facilities, and specialized teacher training to sponsor special classes for exceptional children on the south shore. They also wanted to encourage general research and to create better understanding among the general public of their unique circumstances and needs.
By incorporating as a nonprofit they could raise funds and purchase real estate for the Association to carry out its mission. They looked to collaborate with any state and national associations dedicated to similar purposes. Similar groups were organizing across the state and the country. This was growing into a movement! In 1953 the association changed its name to The South Shore Association for Retarded Children. The mission focused on advocacy and the development of innovative programs. Without any public funding these parents developed nursery schools and organized summer day camps and recreational services. Thanks to their persistent advocacy, the towns eventually assumed responsibility for the camps with state financial support. Then in 1957 Legislation was passed authorizing the Department of Mental Health to operate fourteen pre-school clinical nurseries.
Even though Public education was mandated for “trainable retarded” children since 1954, until the mid to late 60’s parents were finding it impossible to get their children into school classrooms. So these parents started their own separate school. In 1967 the town of Weymouth transferred the deed of a parcel of land on Main St. to a nonprofit called Jaycees Memorial School Inc, for the purpose of building a school for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The memorial school opened in 1970, thanks to many Arc member volunteers. At that time this school served over 400 students every year. The Memorial school eventually became the home of our Early Intervention Program. The building was renamed the Ernest b. Remondini Center in honor or Mr. Remondini who was instrumental in the early development and ongoing work of the school.
In 1969 The Patriot Ledger ran a series of articles about the new development of vocational rehabilitation services. At that time there were 450 people statewide enrolled in these programs and the articles documented the need for many more of these programs. It may be hard to believe now, but parents who were working hard to get services for their children reported many instances of strong opposition from people in their own communities. A Patriot Ledger article reporting on the South Shore Arc’s 40th anniversary quotes parent and Board member Reenee Melsky, “In the early 60’s when we were going door to door collecting donations parents would shut the door in our face or pull their children away from us. It was like they thought we had a disease!”
By the late 1960’s a number of scandalous revelations about the horrific conditions within state institutions created public outrage that led to historic systems change. In the 60’s and 70’s the local Arc’s supported the state chapter in filing a series of lawsuits that resulted in a landmark court order in 1975. This order created the new movement of de institutionalization. The state allocated money to open a series of group homes and day services. Until this time there was no public funding, the services being provided by the Arc were primarily dependent upon donations. Throughout the 70’s and 80’s the Arc of the South Shore operated an Occupational Training Center to address the need of adults who received no state subsidy.
In 1973 the South Shore Association for Retarded children change its name to the South Shore Association for Retarded Citizens reflecting the increasing services to adults. As services grew so did the need for space. In 1977 under the leadership of then president Raymond DeSautels, The Arc was deeded the property at Webb Park. The newly obtained property gave the agency a permanent home and space to expand the day workshop. The board raised over $100,000 to fund the necessary renovations in 1980. By the end of the 80’s the South Shore Arc was a multi-service agency. Since then the agency has continued to add programs, completed a successful capital campaign that raised $1.5 Million and completed a $500,000 expansion of our building on River Street in Webb Park.
Our founding members were truly visionary when they decided they wanted to collaborate with any state and national associations dedicated to similar purposes.
Today The Arc network is a loose affiliation of 700 independent state and local grassroots chapters nationwide. We have accomplished much as separate organizations and so much more as a united advocacy network. We have influenced the tremendous growth of community-based services, and the establishment of many state and federal policies and laws that have advanced the rights of individuals with disabilities in education, employment, housing, and health care. Many thanks go to the visionary leaders who founded our organization and to those who picked up the gauntlet and carried it aloft for over six decades.