The Arc of Douglas County was started in 1956 by a nine families who wanted better educational opportunities for their children diagnosed with Mental Retardation. Dues were set at $2 a year. DCARC joined both the state and national Arc. Incorporated that year as the Douglas County Association for Retarded Children, our founders lead by the strong advocacy of Bryonna Wiley established a philosophy that we continue to follow:
Purposes of the Association for Retarded Children of Douglas County
a. To promote the general welfare of mentally retarded persons of the county of Douglas and bordering counties whether at home, in the community, in institutions or in public, private, or religious schools.
b. To foster the development of integrated programs on their behalf.
c. To advise and aid parents in the solution of their problems and coordinate their efforts and activities.
d. To develop a better understanding of the problems of mental retardation by the public.
e. To cooperate with all public, private, and religious agencies, and with professional groups in the furtherance of these ends.
f. To associate with similar associations in the state and the United States to promote the common cause.
g. To serve locally as a clearinghouse for gathering and disseminating information regarding the retarded.
h. To solicit and receive funds for the accomplishment of the above purposes.
The group’s first efforts were dedicated to education for children with developmental disabilities. Douglas County needed a pre-school program and a school program for children with developmental disabilities, ages 6-20, who were not allowed to attend public schools at that time. The Arc of Douglas County developed a unique partnership with the Lawrence Public Schools, one of the first in the state, creating a private program that was able to utilize some of the resources of the local school system. Classes began in September 1956 in the old Manuel High School building at 9th and Kentucky.
The group joined the United Way, then called the United Fund, in 1956 and received their first allocation of $500 that fall to help start the school. The Arc of Douglas County has proudly maintained their membership in the United Way since that time.
Together with other families in Arcs across the country, The Arc of Douglas County members advocated that their children with disabilities be entitled to the same public education as their non-disabled peers. This advocacy led to the federal Education of All Handicapped Children Act passed in 1975 which assured that children with disabilities were entitled to a free and appropriate public education. The Arc’s private classroom was closed as the Lawrence Public Schools began providing educational services to all children with disabilities. The Arc of Douglas County continues to provide advocacy and support to families to help them work together with the schools to meet their children’s educational needs.
From the beginning our founders knew that their children would need a place to work after they left school. Arc members next turned their concerns to activities for adults with disabilities and established the Bess Stone Activity Center located at 745 Ohio, as a center for children and adults with disabilities to learn needed skills. Named for a long time Arc volunteer, the Bess Stone Center offered pre school programs for children, crafts and vocational training for adults.
As early as 1957 the organization started saving $250 a year as a building fund for an eventual community workshop. Using the $19,000 building fund, a lot of additional fundraising and the support of other community members, members of the Arc helped start Cottonwood, Inc. 1972 to expand on the Bess Stone program and provide residential and vocational services to people with developmental disabilities. Members of the Arc served on Cottonwood’s Board of Directors and the two agencies continue to work closely to assure that people with developmental disabilities receive the highest quality services.
Arc families started the first specialized recreational services in Douglas County. The City of Lawrence assumed this function as the Special Populations Department at Lawrence Parks and Recreation. Special Olympics was pioneered by The Arc of Douglas County and handed off to the City as well.
The Douglas County Association for Retarded Children became the Douglas County Association for Retarded Citizens, then the Association for Retarded Citizens of Douglas County, Inc. and finally the Arc of Douglas County, Inc. in December of 1999. Each name change represents a change in focus and growth.
Throughout our history the role of The Arc of Douglas County has been as advocate and ground breaker. The Arc of Douglas County has fostered the self-advocacy movement by supporting the Self-Advocates of Lawrence group, started in the 1970s as one of the first consumer groups in the state. Much like its parent agency, SAL has had several names over its lifetime – People First, Friends and now the Self Advocates Of Lawrence. In 1993, The Arc of Douglas County contracted with the Arc of Kansas to provide support staff for the Self-Advocate Coalition of Kansas, a network of groups like the Self Advocates of Lawrence from all over Kansas. SACK serves as the voice of the consumer at legislative hearings, statewide work-groups and testimony before the legislature. After SACK incorporated as an independent organization in 1999, it continued its relationship with The Arc of Douglas County by directly contracting with us for staff support, office space, transportation, and accounting. Through our partnership with SACK, The Arc of Douglas County has become an even more effective advocate for the people of Douglas County. Along with SACK, staff members from the Arc are participants in policy setting groups, serve on statewide task-forces, give input on new and needed services, and work with our local legislators to seek funding for education and supports.