A Better Future Built on the Dedication and Determination of Families
While AHRC Nassau remains focused on creating a future of increased inclusion and understanding of intellectual and developmental disabilities, we honor the tireless efforts of those advocates who came before us and set the cornerstones of our organization.
Our history begins with determined parents seeking to build a better future for their children. Seventy years ago, life for a person with developmental disabilities was limited. There there existed no universal right to education, there were no required accessibility features for public buildings or streets and there was a pervasive belief that people with disabilities could not be productive members in the workforce. As a result, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities were hidden away at home or relegated to institutions, segregated by a society who believed they were incapable of being educated or included.
In July 1949, a young mother, Ann Greenberg, rejected this condition for her son and placed an ad in a local newspaper inviting other parents of special needs children to come together and start a nursery school. One of the first responses was from Margarette Reiss, a mother of a three-year-old daughter with an intellectual disability, who became one of the nine original members of AHRC New York City.
Recognizing this same need for children with developmental disabilities on Long Island, Reiss also placed an ad in Newsday. Nineteen people responded and met at the Carle Place Fire House on October 25, 1949. Reiss and Margaret Riva of AHRC NYC spoke to the Long Island-based parents and urged them to take action for their children. That night, the parents voted to form the Long Island Chapter of AHRC; a year later, the chapter split into two separate chapters: Nassau and Suffolk.
AHRC Nassau’s first officers included Reiss as president, as well as James McConnell as vice president; Joan McConnell as treasurer; Rita Jedlicka as recording secretary; and Helen Kaplan as corresponding secretary. This parent-led group banded together to form our first programs, raised funds to purchase the Brookville estate in 1958, and dedicated their lives to establishing community-based programs.
Kaplan also served as vice president, president and became executive director of AHRC Nassau in 1961 until her retirement in 1988. Under her driving force and an engaged board of directors, AHRC Nassau expanded throughout Nassau County, with a network of local volunteer auxiliaries and a staff of caring professionals, to meet the needs of hundreds children, adults and their families.
Through decades of changing attitudes, perceptions and unprecedented growth, one constant remains today – parents who dreamed of a better life for their children and the community who worked alongside them to make it a reality.