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JRC to celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2014

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For six decades, Jefferson Rehabilitation Center has helped people who are disabled achieve success.

From a single classroom in First Methodist Church’s basement in 1954, when it was known as the Jefferson County Association for the Help of Retarded Children, the agency now known as JRC has evolved into having an administrative center, day habilitation services, a production work site, businesses and several residences. Executive Director Howard W. Ganter said that while the nonprofit agency is fairly healthy, with a budget of about $35 million, it will continue to reinvent itself as it faces major changes in the coming years. “The period of growth has ended, based on cuts from the federal and state governments,” he said. “We continue to look at ways to reduce funding. We’re headed toward managed care, where an insurance company will bring a middleman.”

Being able to diversify continuously is what has helped the agency, based at 380 Gaffney Drive, serve hundreds of people with developmental disabilities each year. The initial focus was preschool/early intervention, and then in the early 1970s there was integration of the developmentally disabled in school systems, Mr. Ganter said.

That happened, he said, as a statewide movement began called Project Zero, where there was a shift to move people who were developmentally disabled from institutions to community-based settings. “It went on until the ’90s,” Mr. Ganter said.

During that movement, there also was a JRC claim to fame when Thomas A. Coughlin III, a former president and executive director of the agency, went on in 1975 to become deputy commissioner of the state Department of Mental Hygiene and eventually commissioner of the state Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.

In the middle of the Project Zero movement— in June 1980 — the agency changed its name to Jefferson Rehabilitation Center to better reflect the agency’s growth of services.

Only four institutions are left in the state, two of which are slated to close in the next four years, Mr. Ganter said. Sunmount Developmental Disabilities Center, Tupper Lake, has a small institutional base and a forensic unit, which is a secured treatment facility for developmentally disabled people who are part of the criminal justice system. Rome Developmental Center also has an institution base, Mr. Ganter said.

Carol R. Petrie said she has appreciated such a nearby agency that is able to care for her 34-year-old son, Steven L., around the clock. Mr. Petrie lives on Gaffney Drive, in one of JRC’s many residences.

He was born with chromosome abnormalities, which caused mental retardation, seizures, hip dysplasia and fingers that are too long, among other abnormalities, Mrs. Petrie said.

“He’s reached so many goals,” she said of her son’s 19-year tenure with the agency. “They do everything there. There aren’t a lot of intermediate-care facilities around.”

Mr. Petrie moved into the JRC residence when he was 15 years old. His mother said dedicated staff has helped her son advance, and now he can walk with assistance of a walker, help brush his own teeth and pour milk into a glass without spilling it. Mrs. Petrie said those small achievements are actually big accomplishments for someone who has major medical problems.

“Words can’t express my appreciation,” she said. “Having him close to home is a blessing.”

James Hill echoed the sentiments about the care his sister, Kathy E. Hill, received for more than half of her life at a JRC residence. She died of natural causes in June 2012 at age 62.

“We can’t say enough how much help JRC was to my sister,” Mr. Hill said. “Her verbal skills over the years improved through them working with her. She became more aware of her surroundings and she had a sense of humor, believe it or not.”

He said his sister was severely mentally and physically handicapped, and the family was unable to care for her, although they visited often. Before living at one of JRC’s intermediate facilities in Dexter, Mr. Hill said, his sister lived in the Rome institution. The care provided there just “wasn’t up to speed,” he said.

“When JRC got going, they were able to provide necessary tools to bring people to their capability,” he said.

Throughout its 60th year, and the next few years, JRC will prepare for managed care, which will involve family members or caretakers of people who are developmentally disabled having more of a say in how services are directed and at the same time, move even more of those clients to home settings.

“I’ve never seen change like that’s taking place right now,” Mr. Ganter said.

This year alone, JRC formed a foundation, and now the agency is looking at more ways to generate revenue that does not involve state or federal money. Mr. Ganter said the agency is in the middle of an offer to open a UPS franchise store in the city.

The 60th anniversary will be celebrated with an Aug. 7 gala outside of JRC’s administrative building.

For more information on the agency, visit www.thejrc.org.

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