December 20, 2007
Looking Forward to 2008: David Baldwin

(Note: I have asked a variety of people to submit an essay to me to be posted during the month of December, to be called "Looking Forward to 2008". This entry was written by David Baldwin.)

What a difference a year makes!

This time last year, The Center Serving Persons with Mental Retardation was keeping a low-profile, and its clients, staff, and supporters were worried about the future. Then our biggest challenge became our biggest opportunity.

The agreement we negotiated this year with the City of Houston to buy the land underlying The Center's main campus completely changed our perspective on the future--and Houston's perspective on The Center. We can now make plans to enhance our facilities and programs, and the tremendous exposure and support we received during our land negotiations laid the foundation for future growth.

We are already seeing results. Donations are up, and enrollment in The Center's vocational and day activity programs has grown substantially. And some of our long-time partners have shown renewed interest in The Center. Eva Aguirre, The Center's executive director, is working with social service organizations on ways to collaborate on staff training and to improve transportation services for Houston's mentally and developmentally disabled citizens.

The events of 2007 set the stage for some fundamental changes we will initiate in 2008. As our new Foundation executive director Debra Collins recently observed, The Center has always adapted. Its founders had a vision for the services our clients would need, and The Center remains at the forefront of emerging trends.

With our land issue resolved, the Center's board formed the 21st Century Committee to plot the best course for improving the lives of the people we serve. Of course, our top financial priority will be paying off the note on our land. But the committee also identified two areas of growing community need and demand: day programs and services for an aging client population.

When The Center was founded in the 1950s, life expectancy for our clients was about 35 to 40 years. Thanks to factors like improved health care, that life expectancy has almost doubled, while innovative programs like those offered at the Center have greatly improved quality of life and productivity for those we serve. Stop and think about that for a minute: The Center is now serving a population that essentially didn't exist when it was founded. Many of the people who live in our Cullen Residence Hall moved in when it opened in 1974 and they were in their 20s and 30s. Their home now needs to be enhanced to serve their changing needs.

As life expectancy grows, some of our clients spend more years at home with family and others seek independent living options in the community. To serve the latter, the group home program we launched late this summer will expand in 2008 and beyond.

No matter where our clients choose to live, they need opportunities to grow, work, and become involved in the community. This is one reason we are seeing increased demand for our day programs, such as our Momentum Industries vocational program.

With these priorities in mind, Eva and her staff took the 21st Century Committee's preliminary findings and are developing budgets and action plans. Our final development plan should be finished early in 2008 and will serve as a blueprint for years to come.

Those of us who manage and direct The Center's programs are excited about the possibilities. So are our clients, especially the ones who live on our main campus. They know their home is safe, and they know it's because Houstonians from all walks of life showed their support in 2007. In fact, 12,500 of you signed our on-line petition back in April, and many of you have reached out in other ways to show support.

From everyone at The Center, I offer sincerest thanks for that support. This organization might not have had a future without it.

David Baldwin is the President of the board of directors for the Foundation for the Retarded, which is the fundraising arm of The Center Serving Persons with Mental Retardation.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 20, 2007 to Looking Forward to 2008