United Cerebral Palsy of Central MN has been making a difference in the lives of many people for 57 years. In may of 1950, under the leadership of Agnes Teders, a group of parents of children with cerebral palsy organized and scheduled regular monthly meetings.
Early meetings were held to discuss mutual problems and to gain needed services for their children. With the guidance of Dr. Victor Lohman, director of the Psycho-Educational Center at St. Cloud State, the parent group incorporated in April 1954 in the state of Minnesota, soon to become an affiliate of the United Cerebral Palsy Association.
The focus of the newly formed organization was to provide service for individuals with CP and to educate the general public in understanding the needs of these individuals. A board of directors was elected and the parent group remained active.
Because children with cerebral palsy were not admitted to public schools, the parent group decided their most important goal was to establish a classroom. Funds were raised, and Dr. Lohman made arrangements for classroom space in the barracks building at St. Cloud State College. He also took charge of recruiting a teacher and offered the position to Eva Cook. The class opened December 1, 1954 with four students.
In the spring of 1955, Dr. Lohman requested funds from the Minnesota State Legislature to operate the classroom as a part of the Campus Laboratory School of St. Cloud State College. The legislature appropriated $30,000. With state funding, class size increased and physical and speech therapy were provided for the students. Marion Becker was hired as the physical therapist. Speech therapy was provided by students who were in the Speech Program at St. Cloud State. An aide was added to the staff to care for the physical needs of the children. Some of the children came from as far away as Melrose and Albany and stayed in boarding houses during the week to have the opportunity for schooling. The Campus Laboratory School was a training center for teachers who would be certified in special education. In 1957, Arthur Hill, national education director for UCP, visited the classroom program and termed it “the finest thing of its kind”.
In 1957, UCP of Central Minnesota extended services by adding an Out-Patient Physical Therapy Program for children who were not in other programs or who were of pre-school age.
During the summer of 1960, Day Camp was held in Wilson Park in St. Cloud giving parents a break and providing children with the opportunity to interact and socialize with friends. In October of 1960, Little Falls Hospital began providing physical therapy for clients at the cost of $2 per treatment. At this time, the Day Activity Center (WACOSA) was opened giving adults with disabilities an opportunity to receive care and training in independence. In 1961, with the help of Dr. Edward LaFond, the board of directors established the only evaluation team in the state of Minnesota. They evaluated their first patient at St. Cloud Hospital. From 1962 to 1968, the concept of sheltered workshop was discussed and an information brochure was created. It was originally distributed through the ten county area that UCP covered at that time.
In the 70s, a rehabilitation unit was opened at St. Cloud Hospital and UCP raised money to help families pay for therapy costs. Summer day camps were continued. UCP and the St. Cloud Disability Council cooperated in promoting independence and expanding the rights for those with disabilities.
In 1970, the local affiliate restructured to serve only Benton, Sherburne and Stearns counties. The remaining seven counties were to be served by United Cerebral Palsy of Minnesota.
After years of discussion and planning, in 1971 the “Opportunity Training Center” (OTC) opened. The OTC provided training for individuals with disabilities in the basic skills needed for employment in public workplaces. In addition to providing training, awareness about equal opportunity employment was raised.
UCP of Central Minnesota ended 1979 on a high note as it distributed the first newsletter, Spectrum.
During the 1980s, major fund raising began. The first annual Halloween Party was sponsored and continues to be an annual affair with almost 400 people attending. Annual golf tournaments began in 1982 and the gourmet dinner and auction began in 1983. From 1983 to 1999, benefit racquetball tournaments were held annually. Throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s UCP participated in the Star-athon, a weekend-long telethon featuring the late John Ritter, Bob Hope and other Hollywood celebrities.
A workbook, “Parents Are to be Seen and Heard” was made available to help parents of children with disabilities through daily situations. In 1984, a group called Parents of Special Kids was organized as a support group. The Scholarship program began in 1985 and awards scholarships to recipients “who have met the challenges of living with cerebral palsy with determination and spirit”. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), was established during the 1980s, providing children with disabilities the same opportunities that had previously been available to all children. Children with special needs began to move from segregated classes into mainstream classes.
UCP-CM sponsored a Dental Program. Persons with disabilities could have free dental cleanings and learn basic dental care by a hygienist hired by UCP-CM. They hygienist visited the clients at sheltered workshop sites. 1981 was deemed “International Year of the Disabled”. In 1984, a group called “Parents of Special Kids” was formed as a support group for parents of children with special needs.
As medical insurance began to cover physical, occupational and speech therapy, UCP began their financial assistance program to provide grants to families to purchase necessary adaptive equipment to help individuals live more independently.
in July of 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. This was a major victory for persons with disabilities insuring their protection and fair treatment. In 1994, local children with CP, members of the Kids’s Club, came together to write and illustrate a book, “CIndy Penquin”, which won the national Publication of the Year award from UCPA. The book demonstrates that it’si okay to be different. It tells the story of Cindy, who is a penquin. She walks funny (waddles) and she can’t fly like the other birds. In 1997, UCPA was named one of the nation’s largest and most efficient health charities. The website was up and running in 1998. In the 1990s, UCP collaborated with other agencies in the community to promote quality childcare for children with special needs. Respitality was a program designed to give parents a break from the demanding task of raising children with special needs. Through donations of hotel rooms and meals, parents had the opportunity to enjoy a night in a hotel and dinner out.
In 2000, UCP began promoting National Disability Month in October. The Computers Go Round program was begun in 2000 to recycle quality, used computers to persons with disabilities. Seeing the need for an environmentally safe way for individuals and businesses to dispose of electronic waste, UCP began an E-Waste recycling event in 2001 to raise money for its programs. These events were extremely successful raising more than $300,000 in ten years. In 2007 UCP received a STAR grant through the state of Minnesota to begin an Assistive Technology Loan & Demonstration program. Through this program A.T. devices are demonstrated and loaned out to families and professionals to create an awareness of possibilities through the use of A.T. devices. In 2006, UCP collaborated with ING Direct and began the Super Strikers Bowling League for kids with special needs. Bowling, shoes, t-shirts and ribbons were provided for a small fee. Adaptive equipment was provided so that children of all abilities could participate. UCP partnered with Triangle Recycling in 2007 to allow the use of our logo on clothing recycling containers in exchange for a percentage of the profits. The Arts For All program began in 2012 providing art-related crafts activities for all ages.