Chesapeake Center celebrates 50th anniversary
— Chesapeake Center, an Easton-based nonprofit that provides services to adults with developmental disabilities, celebrated its 50th anniversary with an outdoor party on Friday, Sept. 8.
With an evolving role since its beginnings in 1967, Chesapeake Center now provides vocational and residential services and supports the integration of adults with disabilities into the community.
“We certainly believe that everybody can make a positive contribution,” Chesapeake Center President and CEO Donna Harrison said. “We all have something to offer.”
Harrison was hired by Chesapeake Center right out of college 36 years ago to run a group home when the organization first started its residential program.
At that time, people with developmental disabilities were being released back into communities after being “warehoused in big institutions,” leading to the Chesapeake Center opening group homes as a means to teach them the basics of living, she said.
“We were teaching people to tie their shoes and, you know, everything, because in an institution they didn’t get a lot of care or training, and so those are the kinds of things were were,” Harrison said. “Not that those aren’t important, but over time, tying your shoes isn’t as important. You can buy Velcro ... or you can buy slip-ons.”
“We finally got to the more important things. What are you dreams? What are your hopes? What do you want out of life? ... What is it you want that we can help you with?” she said. “That’s kind of how the focus has changed over the years.”
Although the organization has been providing a vocational-type service for about 20 years, there is now more of a push to find its clients jobs in the community.
“We’re really encouraging that more. That’s become more of our focus, and then there may be some folks who might not be able to participate in the community at that level, and so we can kind of be a safety net for those, but they may still be able to contribute in some way, whether it’s participating in a senior center programs, or attending a concert or whatever,” Harrison said.
Marianna Breeding came to Chesapeake Center as a client after not being able to find work in the community. The organization hired her, and she went on to become a vocational evaluator, and later the head of the entire department. She was on staff for 34 years.
Breeding said the local community “is so wonderful and accepting” that finding the right job for the right person is completely possible.
And for Lee Matthews, who worked for Chesapeake Center for 29 years, she stayed because she simply loved her job and the clients she worked for.
“They’re a wonderful group of people and anything you can do to support or help them made your job much easier and enjoyable, knowing that you were doing something worthwhile,” Matthews said.
Matthews has noticed the organization’s impact to the community through the clients it serves. When she was first employed by it, clients weren’t out in the community on a daily basis, “which I see is the biggest thing,” Matthews said. “They’re getting their own jobs in the community and it makes a big difference to them to feel that they’re important and worth doing something.”
Chesapeake Center has gotten to the core of community integration and what its clients want, Harrison said.
“We’ve got people going on cruises, we’ve got people working at community jobs and loving it, we’ve got people who serve on committees, we’ve got people who belong to clubs, we’ve got people playing community softball,” Harrison said. “I mean, that’s life — that’s the kind of life we all want, and certainly that’s the kind of life they want, too.”
Employees with Chesapeake Center and local officials celebrate the 50th anniversary of the organization on Friday, Sept. 8, with a ribbon cutting ceremony at its headquarters off Dover Road.