On a cool autumn day in 1978, seven young men ended years of rejection, institutionalization, and uncertainty by rejoining their community of birth. A home for men with developmental disabilities had been built, and these seven ‘pioneers’ were its first residents. This was the beginning of Women’s League Community Residences.
Today, with over 30 residential settings, Medicaid Service Coordination, Community Habilitation, CBR Supported Employment and Jumpstart Early Intervention programs, Women’s League touches the lives of countless children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.
But the field of disabilities was not always so bright and encouraging. Back in 1958 when Jeanne Warman, Women’s League’s founder and executive director, gave birth to a set of twin boys and was devastated to discover that one was severely brain damaged due to anoxia at birth, the future seemed very bleak indeed. At the time, individuals with disabilities were generally cared for in oversized institutions that, at best, tended only to their most basic physical needs and at worst, neglected and abused them.
In the early 1970s, news reporter Geraldo Rivera exposed the horrors of the Willowbrook institution on Staten Island, which fortunately resulted in its closing. A class action suit was brought on behalf of the residents, which ultimately led to the signing of the Willowbrook Consent Decree in 1975. This law mandated the deinstitutionalization process and proclaimed the rights of those with mental disabilities to live in their own communities of origin. And, where once “custodial care” was the order of the day, “normalization” was now the goal.
Voluntary agencies, such as N’shei Ahavas Chesed (Women’s League for Community Services) with Jeanne Warman spearheading this ultimate “chesed
” mission, came forward to develop facilities designed to address the needs of community families with members who were intellectually and developmentally challenged. Women’s League Community Residences had been born, and as the saying goes, “the rest is history.”