Life is full of twists and turns, and the unexpected turn in my life was the discovery in 1978 that Judie’s and my four-year old son, Kurt, has tuberous sclerosis and that the prognosis was severe mental retardation. Judie and I then started looking for needed support services, and we found the number of service providers in the Kirksville area to be very limited. In fact, we learned the nearest residential service for children was in Columbia, and it had a four-year waiting list!
The Kirksville Regional Center, which is the local office for the Missouri Department of Mental Health, was supportive, and it had some funds available for the purchase of services, but the services were lacking. Therefore, as Judie and I identified other parents with similar problems, we talked with them about the feasibility of starting a new organization to provide services for persons with developmental disabilities, and the right project to begin new local services came in 1982. Sheila Daniels (now Garlock) developed a proposal for pre-school and infant stimulation services that was eligible for a grant from the Missouri Planning Council for Developmental Disabilities, and the Chariton Valley Association was incorporated in May of 1982 to serve as the parent organization.
The $30,000 grant, for which Shelia’s proposal was eligible, required matching funds of $10,000, and the Kirksville chapter of UCP (now NACD) donated $4,000, and Kurt’s chance encounters with the Kirksville Kiwanis Club led it to donate the generous amount of $5,000. The other $1,000 was collected from a variety of sources, and the $30,000 grant was awarded by the Missouri Planning Council. Lou Rosetti, a special education professor at NMSU (now Truman), went with me to the grant hearing in Jefferson City, and his testimony in favor of the grant was very helpful. Upon completion of the hearing, one of the MPC members said aloud “We have been wondering when someone from North Missouri would start some new services!” It was an interesting commentary on the lack of services in the Kirksville area at that time!”
The pre-school and infant stimulation services were operated as the Chariton Valley Learning Center, and it was a very successful program under Sheila’s guidance. Those of us on the board of directors then turned our attention to the development of additional services with a facility for residential services being first on our list of priorities. Fortunately, we had some dedicated parents on the board, and all of them were committed both to more services and to high quality services.
Melba Bowen was a charter member of the board, and she and Jack were unflagging in the loving care of their daughter, Jana! We also were fortunate to attract Bob Dager to membership on the board, and he and Jane were equally committed to the care of their foster son, Frank Abramowitz. With Melba, Bob and myself, we had three parents of children with disabilities who understood and appreciated the need for a wide range of high quality services. It is good that we did, because our good intentions and persistence were to be sorely tested in the early years of Chariton Valley!
Following establishment of the first program, we worked for two years to find the means to construct and operate a residential facility for children with MR/DD, and we did not succeed! But the silver lining in the cloud is that our efforts were appreciated by the Kirksville Regional Center, and it offered the former residential wing of the KRC building on LaHarpe Street as a location for the needed residential facility, which we named the Chariton Valley Residential Center. My son, Kurt, and three other children were the first residents when the facility opened on January 1, 1985, and the number was increased to eight residents during the first year.
The dream of a new building for the residential program was an illusive one, and we explored several blind alleys before the right opportunity came along in 1988. In retrospect, it is not difficult to understand the lack of progress. Chariton Valley was a fledgling organization that was barely holding its own financially, and it needed a construction loan of almost 100% of the $300,000 cost of its dream home. But persistence paid off, and the tide began to turn when the Kirksville Regional Center, with the assistance of Representative Harry Hill and Senator David Doctorian, donated an acre of land for the dream home. A brokerage firm in Colorado subsequently developed a bond issue for a number of small to medium size providers of MR/DD services in Missouri, and the Chariton Valley dream came true — virtually a 100% loan with an affordable 15 year repayment period. Construction was started in the late summer of 1988, and the dream home at 1708 East LaHarpe Street was opened in April of 1989 with sufficient room for 16 residents as well as space for respite care. It was proof that miracles still happen!
Chariton Valley might have remained on the 1989 plateau, after the long struggle to build the new facility, but further progress was assured when Crystal Amini-Rad was employed as the new executive director. Crystal was committed to providing the services for persons with disabilities that were still lacking in the Kirksville area, and a number of new Chariton Valley programs were started through her able leadership, including the group home at 34 Grim Drive, Individual Supported Living (ISL) and the Home Management programs. Tim Tucker replaced Crystal when she started her career with KTVO, and he continued to expand the programs. Terry Combs was Tim’s assistant, and the board wisely chose Terry as the new executive director when Tim resigned his position. Terry has brought financial stability to the organization, as well as expanded the programs, and Chariton Valley now has an annual budget of more than $2.4 million. A far cry from the days when I worried about Chariton Valley’s ability to just pay its debts, if it had to close its doors for any reason!
Chariton Valley also received valuable support from parents of children with disabilities other than those named above. Those who served on the board of directors were Lodena Biggs, Glen Egley, Lin Harrison, Glenda Kolb, and Joyce Rollins. Mike Bailey was another parent who provided valuable support. CV also was fortunate to gain the professional expertise of several board members through the years, including David Bethel, David Clithero, Pete Detweiler, Al Holzmeier, Kees Koutstaal, Jim Marshall, Michele McClain, Sue Ann Morrow, Judy Mullins, Bill Orendorff, Stephanie Polhans, Ed Ross, and Heidi Templeton. A collection of special and talented people, who made the difference!
Although Chariton Valley is now bigger and better than in its early days, it still retains the same basic goal to provide as many high quality services as possible for the local persons who need them to live better lives! And it continues to be blessed with both board members and staff members who are committed to providing high quality services for persons with disabilities, — many of whom have never enjoyed the freedom and benefit of good health! Therefore, all of us who have been associated with Chariton Valley, and the people it serves, have much to celebrate on this occasion of the organization’s 35th anniversary!
Ray Klinginsmith – President Emeritus