Celebrating 25 Years - Part I
The First Few Years
By Ann Morris, retired Executive Director
The early years at SCIL demanded a lot of hope and creativity---hope that someday we would have more money and in the meantime create our vision with what we had. When SCIL opened on Feb. 3, 1986, people with disabilities were struggling against discrimination in workplaces, schools, businesses, housing, transportation, and recreation. We were the fifth independent living center in Missouri and were first located in a small house at 930 South Street. Our entire budget that year was $40,000, with a service area of 21 counties, a tall order to be sure! The budget covered the director and a secretary, so I had multiple jobs, including all the consumer services and outreach as well as the mundane chores such as mowing the grass (in heels, which caused some strange looks by people driving by!) and cleaning the office. I didn’t mind at all, because I was so proud that SCIL could show consumers they had choices and empowerment in their lives. It was an environment they had not been able to find anywhere else. The parents of a group of teenagers with disabilities threw us a kitchen shower so we would have utensils, silverware and other necessities for teaching cooking. We served people with all disabilities, both physical and mental in an atmosphere of understanding and help with whatever was needed. I spent a lot of time getting out in the community and describing who we were, what we did and the IL philosophy.
One of the first things we did was conduct a Needs Survey, as this was vital in determining what services were not available and the areas we should target to provide, improve, or advocate for change. SCIL provided the four core services and several others from the beginning. For instance, in the first year and I was deputized to register voters at SCIL. I wanted people to know that we were an advocacy agency, not just a service agency and that one powerful way for people with disabilities to change their future was through the ballot box.
At the end of the year we moved to 914 S. Jefferson, a house that was completely renovated for us by builder Hank Datema at his own expense. We also got an increase in our budget to $67,792 that allowed us to hire an Independent Living Specialist.
The Personal Care Attendant (PCA) program was a pilot program in the state in 1986 with only 15 people on the program. In 1987 the “pilot” status was removed and in 1988 the governor approved 30 persons to be on the program. That year SCIL had one person receiving these services. Our vision became reality in later years, as there are now thousands receiving these services (now called Consumer Directed Services) that allow persons to stay in their own homes rather than in institutional settings.
We also started our first youth summer camp in 1988, the Life Skills Day Camp, which after a few years evolved into the “Creating Amazing Transition” weekly group that met most of the school year so our teenagers with disabilities would be more prepared for life after high school and the confidence to pursue their dreams. Youth transition services continue to draw large numbers still today.
Our early days were certainly challenging, but 25 years later, all those who helped it grow can be very proud of the large presence SCIL has today.