Elmhurst, Inc. is a private, non-profit, social service agency based in the city of Bath on the coast of Maine. Our mission is to encourage increased independence and to promote and support responsible choice making by people with intellectual disabilities, mental illness, and autism in the Mid Coast area.
Prior to the 1970’s there were no educational or vocational opportunities for children with disabilities. Parents were forced to choose between placing their sons and daughters in institutions, or caring for them at home. That decision was difficult for those who wanted the best for their family members. Unlike today, few resources were available for support and information. The “experts” often had conflicting opinions about the causes of developmental disabilities, and much misinformation was given to both parents and society. Blame, pressure, or pity placed on these families added to the difficult decision of what should be done for their children. Clearly, there was a need of services for individuals with disabilities.
A young couple of Bath in the late 1950’s was faced with this dilemma. Their son, born with mental retardation, would soon be old enough to attend school. They recognized his talents and potential, and were dismayed to find there were no opportunities for him in their public school system. After contacting other institutions, it was apparent that no one catered to the needs of disabled children. The parents took matters into their own hands and began contacting other families who were in similar situations. As with any true grassroots movement, a definite need was identified and necessary actions were taken to remedy the problem.
These families began meeting in groups of three or four on a regular basis to brainstorm ideas for how they would meet the needs of their sons and daughters. Everyone agreed that they wanted their children to have the opportunity to learn living skills, receive an education, and obtain job training on a daily basis. With little money, no building to house such a venture, and non-existent staff, these pioneers went to work. They began telling family and friends about their ideas; these informal contacts evolved into formal speaking engagements at clubs, schools, businesses, council meetings and organizations. Through their efforts donations began to trickle in, giving Bath and surrounding towns the chance to realize their vision. With some community exposure, even more families with disabled children volunteered to pitch in and help the effort.
Behind the large building that is now part of Hyde School, was a small cottage loaned to the group of parents who needed a place to begin the activity center. In 1960, this group of parents and their children became the “Bath-Brunswick Regional Association for Retarded Children.” Family members and people from the community were elected to form a board of directors and the Association became incorporated. The staff members were primarily volunteers and parents. With cooperation from many in the community who were willing to donate their time and effort, the Association began activities for individuals such as woodworking, sewing, making greeting cards, and learning academic subjects such as reading and writing.
With their initial success in the activity program, parents realized summer was approaching quickly and looked for additional recreational opportunities for their children. Summer camps were not available for children with disabilities; therefore, they decided to start one themselves. After a piece of land was secured, the parents and volunteers spent many hours clearing brush and debris away to accommodate summer camp activities. Tents were obtained, and the children began attending at least one night per week. Staffing for the camp included parents and community members on a volunteer basis.
In the 1970’s, the government began to recognize the needs of students with disabilities to receive an education. Through legislation, public schools were mandated to provide educational programs to these students. Children with disabilities were mainstreamed into the public school system. Those who formerly were at the Association were introduced to their local schools. With the children moved to the school system, the Board of Directors and family members changed the purpose of the association to meet the needs of adults who had mental retardation. Additionally, the organization moved to a different location in Bath and those in neighboring communities broke from the Association to form new organizations to meet the needs in their community.
Drawing on the history of the area, the organization’s name changed to include Elmhurst – the name of the estate that belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Henry C. Wright of Bath (Today the building is part of Hyde School). The Association became Elmhurst, Inc in 1990. The history and present of Elmhurst, Inc is a testament to the hard work and vision of those parents who dreamed of providing a better future for their sons and daughters.