Mari Howard – CEO and President, shares the history on how Intandem has set a new standard for collaboration among agencies serving individuals with developmental disabilities and mental health concerns.
In 2017, two regional chapters of The Arc New York joined forces and embarked on a journey to set a new standard for collaboration among agencies serving individuals with disabilities.
The Rehabilitation Center, based in Olean, New York, and Opportunities Unlimited, based in Niagara Falls, New York, began the process of building a new, unified brand identity that honored their unique, six-decade histories while establishing a strong and vibrant organization.
The two organizations have a rich history—both with the communities in which they serve, and with their independent brand identities. In creating a parent brand, all parties worked together to craft a likeness that honors both the heritage of each agency and their combined mission to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities.
Throughout the brainstorming meetings, one theme prevailed—togetherness. While the process, funding, legislation, and even definition of what it means to serve people with disabilities has changed dramatically over the tenure of our organizations, one thing that has not changed is the commitment to togetherness. Both organizations recognize that, as people, we’re better together—disabilities or not, Olean or Niagara, it doesn’t matter. Togetherness works.
The Rehabilitation Center was organized in Olean, NY, by a grassroots group of visionary parents of children with disabilities in 1957. Through their perseverance, hard work and advocacy, they were successful in providing educational and vocational training for children who otherwise would not have experienced the dignity and independence deserved by all people, with or without limitations.
The First Meetings
The 1950s have been described as “The Dark Ages” for children with disabilities. Americans were fearful of people with disabilities. Prior to legislation requiring public education for children with cognitive or emotional disabilities, deafness, blindness or the need for speech therapy, parents had few options other than to educate their children at home or pay for expensive private education.
The Beginning of Services, Education and Advocacy
These dedicated parents insisted their children have access to an education and a means for socialization in their own community. They raised $500 and received permission from the Olean School Board to utilize a classroom in School 11. The training school opened on Jan. 6, 1958, with one teacher and a handful of children between the ages of 8 and 10. They organized a local chapter of The Association for Help for Retarded Children. In addition to providing services to children with disabilities, they also worked to educate the community about disabilities to erase some of the misconceptions and irrational fears people had about people with disabilities.
The Center became state-certified and was named The Cattaraugus County Association for Retarded Children. Fund-raising became a priority as enrollment figures at School 11 continued to climb. While working under an $11,000 budget, it held its annual fundraiser and a scholarship fund to initiate a day camp.
By 1969, forty six children and a dozen teachers were using the School 11 facility. Soon the group needed additional space for a central training center to accommodate its growing needs. A new center was set up in a wing of St. Elizabeth Motherhouse in Allegany. This location became known as the Cattaraugus County Association for Retarded Children’s Rehabilitation Center.
In 1978, the agency was rebranded as The ReHabilitation Center of Cattaraugus County. The Center was growing in size and scope. Its mission evolved to include services for people with physical disabilities and mental health diagnoses. The addition of an outpatient clinic in the newly constructed Allegany site provided occupational and physical therapy, speech, and audiology, to people with and people without disabilities.
1970s, The ReHabilitation Center’s work training center had blossomed into SubCon Industries and moved into its current location on North 15th Street in Olean. The business was expanded by 6,000 feet with a major addition in 1985. Today it provides employment and vocational training opportunities to about 220 workers. SubCon also supports the Employment Connection, a program that helps people with disabilities find and keep jobs in the community, and a Cleaning Services division that puts people with disabilities to work providing professional industrial cleaning contracts with local stores, offices and corporations.
The Center’s Residential Services’ program was also growing. In 1978, the The ReHabilitation Center had one residence for five men and seven women on West State Street. Throughout the 1980s, the agency added five houses in Allegany and Olean, serving both adults and children. By 1988, the agency was placing individuals with disabilities into the community in family environments with its unique Family Care program. Today, the Residential Services program supports hundreds of people with a wide array of housing options from supported living and supervised apartments to fully-supervised residential settings that are staffed 24 hours per day.
In 1990, The Center’s special education program, which had always been the foundation of its efforts, evolved into the Children’s Learning Center. Its services came to include early intervention, special education and physical, occupational and speech therapy. In the 1990s, the Children’s Learning Center broke down barriers and evolved into integrated classroom settings. It began providing educational services to children with special needs in “traditional” classroom settings with their non-disabled peers. Its success is reflected in the public schools absorption of this model.
The Rehabilitation Center grew to be a dynamic, multifaceted agency that supported more than 900 people each day at more than 43 sites throughout Cattaraugus County and beyond. Its range of services is comprehensive, including day treatment, vocational services, residential, day habilitation, community habilitation, behavioral health services and much more.
(Formerly Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara)
Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara was founded in 1955 by a group of parents who wanted to obtain services for their children diagnosed with mental retardation. The Niagara County Chapter of the Association for Retarded Children was incorporated as a chapter of the New York State Association for Retarded Children, known as NYSARC, Inc. which is now The Arc New York.
The agency originally operated school programs in Niagara Falls, Lockport and North Tonawanda, providing children with developmental disabilities education and supports– basic needs that they had previously been denied.
In the 1960s, the agency’s first sheltered workshop opened, followed by its first community residence in the 1970s. In 1990, the agency’s name was changed to Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara to reflect the organizational philosophy of building opportunities for people with disabilities and ensuring that they be able to reach their maximum potential and independence through integration into the community.
The provision of new choices in vocational programs spurred a period of growth throughout the 1990s. August 1998 marked the start to a new era of growth for agencies serving people with disabilities throughout New York State when then-Governor George Pataki announced a five year plan aimed at eliminating the waiting list for persons needing out-of-home residential care.
Up until the 2018 unification with the Cattaraugus County Chapter – The ReHabilitation Center, Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara assisted nearly 600 people reach goals and lead more independent lives through on-site vocational training; community-based job placement and employment support; school-to-work transition planning; day programming; clinical services; transportation; residential choices; and supportive services such as recreation and self-advocacy.