CDC celebrates 150 years

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The Columbus Developmental Center (CDC) celebrated 150 years of dedication and commitment to improving the quality of life for those with mental disabilities with a commemorative ceremony in mid-March in the administration building.

Amid black and white photos of the organization’s fledgling decades, past and present employees, residents, and supporters of CDC joined to share in its colorful history of success in spreading its wings.

"I like to measure success in the moments we celebrate," said CDC Superintendent Mike Snow.  "And there are a lot of moments to celebrate."

CDC is a residential facility, funded by the state and federal governments, which currently houses 157 adults, most of whom are diagnosed with severe mental retardation and need extensive support in daily living, health care, and social skills development.

Established in 1857 by the Ohio Legislature as the Ohio Asylum of Idiotic and Imbecile Youth, the CDC grew from a recognized need to assist the mentally disabled population in the community.

"This facility was part of an awakening," said Snow.

The state viewed the mentally disabled as a group of people that needed to be elevated, he explained.

"This was not a dark period."

At its inception, the institution claimed a house on what is now East Main Street as its schoolhouse, and catered to children between the ages of 6 and 15.

In the first 50 years of operation, the school grew from 30 students to over 600, with more than 25 teachers, and expanded its campus to include several newly constructed buildings, thanks to government appropriations.

By then, the school was known as the "Ohio Institution for the Feeble-minded Youth."

In 1897, the facility began caring for adult custodial persons and in 1904, a provision was made to accept legally committed adult patients.

Rapid change continued through the twentieth century as the facility further expanded, adding a reception and diagnostic center, a central food service building, a permanent chapel, and a rehabilitation building.

In addition to physical change, beginning in the late 1970s, the institute adopted a progressive philosophy, known as deinstitutionalization, in order to operate under the least-restrictive living policies in an effort to improve the quality of life for individuals.

Then, in 1986, the school program at the facility ended. Any school-age residents subsequently attended what became known as Franklin County’s West Central School.

At that time, there were 400 residents at CDC, living within four residential units. In the following years, the facility decreased in numbers from 400 to 250 as part of a "phase-down" plan. Several original buildings were demolished and replaced, as well.

In its most recent decade, CDC has continued to meet the needs of its residents, as well as focus on providing meaningful activities and choices, such as Community Care Day, Make a Difference Day, holiday dances and parties, and art shows.

Now, 150 years after its establishment, CDC continues to provide specialized, pre-placement training, placing all able-residents in group homes, work placement groups, or in their own homes, as it did in the 1850s.

CDC currently houses 157 residents at an average age of between 45 and 50 years, and looks forward to many more years of service.

"The people that live and work here are pretty much family," said Snow. "This has always been a celebration of life to watch people live and grow. It’s about love."

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