Cheers to 50 Years! Throughout 2017 Spring Dell Center has celebrated 50 years of supporting people with disabilities, and the program’s successes linking participants to the community as well as opportunities for employment. Each month we have remembered moments of the past during a special event or activity. My, how far we have come.
Since 1967, the center has grown to include a variety of services that provide support in every facet of life. Although once focused on day services for 30 children, today, services have expanded to include supports to over 200 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in areas of employment, residential assistance, transportation, and wellness services in addition to numerous others. Recently, the organization’s story was captured by the Maryland Independent.
Friday, October 6, 2017
By Charlie Wright
The Spring Dell Center has been the leader in supporting disabled residents of Charles County for the past five decades, a period spanning great change in perception of how to care for these individuals and how to utilize them within the community.
The center has gone from a relative unknown in the area to a household name, mostly due to the success and growth of its residents as well as its long-tenured, loyal staff. Spring Dell’s recent 50th anniversary celebration brought together local leaders and business partners to celebrate the institution.
The next half-century is sure to bring more of the same, as the center reaps the rewards of a well-built foundation and continues to provide work for Charles County’s special needs citizens.
“People truly can work regardless of their disability, and people truly should have those same opportunities and experiences.”
The center is committed to helping residents achieve independence and find gainful employment. Staff provides a wide variety of services, from individual support that includes grocery shopping and respite care to community living assistance and transportation. The center also offers residential services that help members make housing arrangements and remain involved in the community.
The origins of the center go back more than 50 years, to a daycare program established through the Charles County Handicapped and Retarded Citizens Association in 1962. Five years later, this program would shift to become Spring Dell Center Inc., and quickly earned a reputation among similar institutions as serving the least-capable members of the population who required more intensive services. The center would move to its current Radio Station Road facility in 1975 and offer residential services five years after that.
An increase in Charles County population during the mid-2000s led to an uptick in residents at the center, eventually leading to the implementation of a waiting list. The facility itself grew during this time, with parking lot expansion, a storage shed and landscaping coming before the construction of a canopy and a four-bay storage area a few years later. In 2015, the Spring Dell Center was named Charles County Chamber of Commerce Nonprofit of the Year.
“It’s been invaluable,” said La Plata Mayor Jeannine James, of the center’s importance to the area. “The people that they’re been able to place in different jobs, and help out in the community, has had a huge impact.”
James has a niece and nephew with special needs living in another state, and urged her sister-in-law to find a Spring Dell-equivalent in her community.
The growth of the center over the years coincided with a shift in approach, as more research was done and additional information gathered by staff about their residents.
“It initially started out as control … you did not know how to really support them, because they had such significant needs or significant behaviors,” Retzlaff said. “And what we’ve truly learned over the years, it comes down to one thing, and that’s communication. They’re just trying to tell you something … Once you give them control, you start to figure it out.”
“There’s a job everywhere for somebody, it’s just finding what that looks like,” said Director of Residential Services Allison Hartley. “For a lot of people that we support, they’re beyond reliable, they’re usually very meticulous in their job skills, and very rarely do they not show up for work. And I can’t think of an employer who doesn’t think that that’s three of the strongest assets that you need.”
Going forward, the center faces unique challenges when it comes to caring for these individuals as healthcare and medical options improve their conditions.
“Life expectancy, when we started, we didn’t have people in their 50s,” said staff member Sue Hardesty, who has been with the center for 35 years. “They didn’t live that long. Now the drawback of Down syndrome is Alzheimer’s.”
At the core of the operation, staff continues to strive to maximize independence for disabled individuals. Ironically, after years of expanding their facilities, the next step for Spring Dell is to remove residents from them.
“Our goal right now is to offer all of our services directly in the community,” said Retzlaff, a 30-year employee herself. “The idea is that folks are at this facility less and less. And whatever we do here, we can do in the community.”
Although much time has passed, it is not too late to join the celebration. Several events are scheduled that will help remember the past and embrace our growth as we finish out the year. Take a look and don’t forget to join the center’s staff and program participants in activities that will occur as the year comes to an end. More information on upcoming events.