In the mid-1970's, parents in Linn County who had adult sons and
daughters with developmental disabilities looked to the future with
serious concerns. The local community had a growing variety of
specialized programs, but residential services such as small group
homes were few in number. Those that did exist were already full and
had long waiting lists of people wanting to live there.
Four local Knights of Columbus Councils had been participating in a national project to raise funds for mentally retarded children and adults through an annual "Tootsie Roll Fund Drive". The effort was very successful in Linn County, raising thousands of dollars each year. The desire was to use these funds best to meet the needs of local people who had mental disabilities. Representatives from the Knights of Columbus decided to meet with members of the local Association for Retarded Citizens (The ARC) chapter to find an answer.
Parents at The ARC were very clear: their #1 priority was the creation of more community-based housing for adults with developmental disabilities. In 1977, The Knights of Columbus formed a non-profit organization called Discovery Living, Inc. to meet this need.
On December 1, 1981, Discovery Living opened its first 8-person group home. Over the next 7 years four more homes were built and opened. Also, a supervised apartment living program was initiated for those who needed less support services. In this short time more than 45 people with intellectual disabilities were being served at Discovery Living.
By the late 1980's, the Iowa Department of Human Services began to promote the development of smaller-scale living units of 3-5 persons. Over the next several years Discovery Living opened several of these homes.
Community acceptance was very good, as people with intellectual disabilities took their place alongside their neighbors. The fabric of the community was becoming more diverse. People with disabilities were enjoying richer lives, filled with new experiences. At the same time, the broader community began to understand the abilities and contribuions made by people with disabilities.
In 1993, Discovery Living undertook a major redesign of its residential services. That year the organization began a three-year process of converting to the "Supported Community Living" program under Medicaid's Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) waiver. The major feature of this new program was the requirement that homes be downsized so not more than 3-4 persons live in each home. There were also philosophical changes that promoted more individual choices by those receiving services. As a result, many Discovery Living residents moved to new locations with fewer housemates.
Today, Discovery Living serves over 140 people in over 50 locations. Every person served by Discovery Living has an intellectual disability, and most have other conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy, seizure disorders, visual or hearing limitations and/or multiple disabilities. The organization employs over 160 staff, most of whom provide direct support for the residents when they are at home.
The future for Discovery Living looks bright. Over the years it has kept its focus on providing high-quality residential support services to men and women who have various intellectual disabilities. The ultimate goal is to enable people served to enjoy lives that are filled with meaning, worth, dignity and respect. In so doing, they can be recognized as valuable members of the community in which they live.
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