What do Helping Hand Center, Disneyland, mandatory seatbelts, and McDonalds all have in common? All were started 60 years ago in 1955. We are in good company sharing a birthday with these entities that helped people be happy and safe over the years.
Life was different in 1955: gas was 23 cents per gallon, minimum wage $1/hour, and the average annual salary $4,100. Today these numbers have increased significantly and so have personal, governmental, and societal financial pressures. People are trying to do more with less and plan for the future. Helping Hand Center is no different. We have grown from a small school in 1955 with a handful of students to a multidisciplinary Center serving over 700 people with disabilities ranging from newborns to senior citizens. Our budget has grown to $16 million; yet our dependency on Illinois Department of Human Services funding has reduced from 85% to 47%. We also provide $1 million of free services per year. We are proud of these numbers as they allow us to serve more families. But with waiting lists of over 20,000 children and adults in the state needing the services that Helping Hand Center provides, there is more work to be done.
While finances have changed considerably over the past 60 years, people continue to do the right thing. In 1955 Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat in Alabama. Despite the significant difficulties it caused, she did what was right. Today, people at Helping Hand Center also make decisions to do what is right; parents choosing independence for their children, staff advocating for quality resources for clients, and donors financially supporting those in need.
The year 1955 was also when many parents who had children with special needs began to consider other more inclusive options. With Helping Hand Center’s services, families could keep their children at home. Now families have a place for their children to grow into adults and live independently. This is the path Phil followed. He was in our first Kindergarten class in 1955. Phil has grown with Helping Hand Center ever since; living in one of our homes, employed in our workshop, and socializing with other clients. Phil plans to stay with us for years to come. And thanks to our qualified staff, generous donors, and caring community, Helping Hand Center will be here for Phil and many others.
So “Happy Birthday” to Helping Hand Center, who has been assisting children and adults with disabilities achieve their highest levels of independence for 60 years; and thank you to our generous donors who continue to invest in our important Mission!
Mary Beth Hepp
Helping Hand Center