The Center of Hope Foundation’s History

Over 60 years ago, in May of 1956, a young mother of 10 children was encouraged to start a Chapter of the “Association for Retarded Children” in the 10 town Southern Worcester County Area.  Anita Anderson of Charlton, along with a small group of other parents, began the research to educate themselves and the public about people with disabilities.  It was commonly accepted before this movement that all people born with severe disabilities would never improve, so the best course of action was to leave these children in institutions.  These small groups all over the state and country changed all that through their grass roots efforts.

The Arc, (formerly known as the National Association for Retarded Citizens) is still the largest organization in the United States to serve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. As the years have gone by people have realized that people of all abilities can live and work in their own communities, and can lead fulfilling and meaningful lives.  The Arc movement toward helping people to come out of institutions into group homes, as well as young parents keeping their children at home began in the 1960s. The 1970s saw the mandate of children being educated in their own public schools with the passage of Chapter 766 in Massachusetts and sheltered workshops were created for adults to have work. The 1980s saw a new movement for people to be supported to work in their communities, as employers realized that hiring a person with a disability can be a real asset to their company.  In the last several decades, still with significant grass roots support, such as self-advocacy and legislative education, society has changed to accept people of all abilities into their everyday lives.

Anita’s efforts in 1956 led to a school they named the Center of Hope on Walnut St. in Southbridge, MA, for children with disabilities, started in a former garage of the Wells family and donated by the American Optical. When the children went to the public schools in the 1970s small recreational and day programs for adults were developed.

In 1984 a small inheritance allowed the Board of Directors to revitalize the SWCARC, Inc. and Jim Howard and Geri Filion who worked at the Rehab. Center in Webster were invited to re-invigorate the ARC.  Their efforts allowed a new Respite House, long needed in the area, to be opened, and a new contract with 2 state workers to be obtained. It wasn’t long (1986, to be exact), when the Walnut St. building became  too small and space was rented, room by room in the American Optical Complex, until all of the 80,000 square feet was being used as the agency expanded.

Since those early $5,000.00 budget days, the agency has grown to serve over 600 families in 61 towns in Massachusetts and Connecticut.  Our main offices in Southbridge  are now housed in our 100,000 square foot building at 100 Foster St./1 North St. acquired in 2003,  and we still own the original Walnut Street building, which has been expanded and holds one of our 4 Day Habilitation programs.  We also own a site at 40 West Street, Southbridge, which holds another Day Hab and our HUD 811 apartments for 9 folks succeeding in living on their own with some individual supports..

Three of our small businesses are prospering at 100 Central St., Southbridge, which include Books and Beans Coffee Shop, Honest Town Postal and Print, and Hope’s Treasures Consignment Shop. Our thriving, comprehensive Vocational program, helps people succeed in competitive employment in our communities, and/or work in our 13 small businesses, including Noress Corp., our assembly and packaging company, Just the Details Car Detailing services, Inquiry Systems Direct Mail Marketing, All Manner of Banners, Cans of Hope, Yards of Hope, Clean out and Removal Services, Construction & Renovation Enterprise, Cans of Hope, Shred of Hope, Yards of Hope and Janitorial Services.

Beyond the Vocational services, we have 4 large Day Habilitation programs, Extended Day, After School, Camp, Individual and Family Supports programs, an ABI Waiver Program, Youth Internship and Employment programs, as well as the unfunded Special Olympics, Recreational Dances, Outings and Trips,  Emergency Relief,  Volunteers of Hope, Self-Advocates Groups, Legislative Advocacy and other Arc Community Programs.

As we have grown to be one of the top five employers in town, we have also become a well-respected and vital part of our community, involved in many aspects of our towns, from renovating town parks, having dozens of volunteers at the local hospital, to involvement in town committees, boards of directors,   and chamber of commerce and other business groups.  As our National and State Arcs have branded together with a National logo and marketing efforts, we have embraced our roots, changing our name and logo, too, to become recognized all over the world.  Our goals continue to allow us to move forward, providing innovative and avant-garde services for an ever wider circle of people and needs.

Within these pages are details about all of our services and programs. The details of our extraordinary history can also be obtained by asking for a copy.  Join us in our quest to help people in our ongoing “civil rights movement”, while celebrating how we got here…

To learn more about the current events in Day Habilitation Programs, Family Supports, Employment Supports, and the multiple entrepreneurial business developments, please continue viewing the Center of Hope Foundations website or contact the Marketing Department for a tour of the facility at 508-764-4085.