437 Prospect Street, Willimantic, CT
With the often-asked question, “Where is my adult child going to live when I am no longer able to care for him/her?” The seeds were planted for MARCH, Inc. of Manchester. Jean Sullivan, Supervisor at what was then referred to as the MARC Sheltered Workshop, was hearing this question often from the parents of her clients. Jean relayed this concern to Bob Gorman, then President of MARC, and this was in 1976.Bob had the foresight to realize the seriousness of this concern. He appointed a committee formed with MARC Board members and parents, Laurie Prytko being the chairperson. This began the process that eventually birthed MARCH, Inc. Manchester had been established as part of the recently formed Tolland Region of Dept. of Mental Retardation. (This became what is presently known as Dept. of Developmental Services.) Gary Thorne was Commissioner of DMR at the time and George Ducharme became Superintendent of the Tolland Region. George was not an advocate of Regional Centers. He was instead supportive of clients having the opportunity to live in community-oriented housing which he had seen as group homes. With the assistance of George, the newly formed committee researched and visited some of the private group homes already established in the state.
These visits were helpful to the committee as they then began searching in Manchester for a house to convert into a group home. In preparing the path for the possibility of opening group homes, Bob Gorman worked with Alan Lamson, Town Planner of Manchester. They developed an ordinance which restricted certain congregate living situations. The Town of Manchester had previously had some bad experiences with group homes and there had been firm opposition to them. With the development of the new ordinance, the Manchester Planning Commission followed the Town Planner’s lead and gave approval allowing for group homes with up to ten residents. With these preliminaries in place, MARC could now proceed with no apparent reason for disapproval from the Manchester Zoning Board of Appeals. Independent of this MARC project there were real estate developments in Manchester involving three churches within city blocks of each other. These churches were members of the Manchester Conference of Churches, and their congregations were represented by the Rev. Steve Jacobson of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Rev. Bill Carroll of St. James Church, and Rev. Dale Gustafson of Emanuel Lutheran Church. The Revs., and members of their congregations, had a committee with the goal of refurbishing deteriorating housing stock in the Park Street and Chestnut Street area. A Cheney house on Park St. was to be sold and St. Mary’s and St. James were offered first and second rights of refusal. Although neither church chose to purchase the house, it was the catalyst for the three churches to offer to work with MARC and their housing committee. Revs. Jacobson, Carroll, and Gustafson were all aware of the needs of their parishioners who had developmentally disabled children. Rev. Jacobson had communicated to Rev. Gustafson that a MARC parent group was looking for housing for individuals in their Supervised Day Program. After presenting the idea of collaboration to the Refurbishing Committee, it was voted that Rev. Jacobson offer the Committees’ assistance in developing a group home to the MARC parent group. The parents accepted and their representatives joined in the biweekly Committee meetings that were already being held at Emanuel. This necessitated the “official” formation of the combined planning group which led to MARCH, Inc. of Manchester being formed in June 1979. The Revs. Jacobson, Carroll, and Gustafson were the three Incorporators of MARCH, Inc. of Manchester. Atty. John LaBelle drew up by-laws pro bono and Rev. Carroll put in the $25.00 needed for the filing with the Secretary of State for MARCH, Inc. of Manchester to become a 501c(3) non-profit organization for the purpose of providing housing for the developmentally disabled. The original composition of the Board of MARCH, Inc. of Manchester consisted of up to three people from each of the three churches plus four people from MARC. After much searching, a house was found at 573 Woodbridge St. in Manchester. If bought, it would need extensive rehabilitation. Rev. Jacobson worked with three parishioners - Jack DeQuattro, Paul Gruber, and Bill Thornton - to purchase this house. MARCH, Inc. leased the house for thirty years from these three men with a “net-net” arrangement. MARCH would pay for all expenses, maintenance, and taxes. When the house was purchased, Charlie Holland, (then Vice President of MARCH), Mark Peterson, and Bob Gorman met with Marty Legault, President of the Corporation for Independent Living, to discuss the cost of the extensive renovations needed to transform the house into a Group Home setting. Marty had experience working with other Group Homes in the state. There was also the need to get a rate from the state for reimbursement of operating expenses and capital costs. Marty Legault met with officials of the Office of Policy and Management to address this issue. As a result, the state allotted the Woodbridge Street home a $25.00 a day, per person rate. With the help of George Ducharme, MARCH, Inc. was able to procure a grant from the Office of Developmental Disabilities. This grant was used to hire an Executive Director and a Secretary. Melanie Haber was chosen as the first Executive Director of MARCH, Inc., in 1980. The first office of MARCH, Inc. was a space in the basement of Emanuel Lutheran Church, donated by the church.
Melanie’s job began with the process of taking applications for clients to live in the Woodbridge St. home. After undergoing many extensive renovations, this first MARCH, Inc. group home was officially granted a Certificate of Occupancy on February 5, 1981.
The second home was built from the ground up by MARCH, Inc. at 636 Middle Turnpike East, Manchester. This home was financed through a 302 mortgage, a very complicated application process involving 300 pages of paperwork having to be filed with the Town Clerk’s Office. This second Group Home of MARCH’s was opened on April 2, 1982, a mere 14 months after Woodbridge Street. A large tent was rented for the occasion and set up in the backyard. Numerous dignitaries attended the official Opening of the Home including CT State Lt. Gov. Fauliso.
Since the beginning discussions in 1976, MARCH, Inc. has grown to the present day, to include ten Group Homes located in the towns of Manchester, Vernon, Columbia, Willimantic, and Windsor.
In addition to the Group Homes, MARCH, Inc. also provides two Supportive Living Programs where individuals live in their own apartments, and a Day Services Option program. More than 50 individuals are served by our employees. All services provided have a common goal, to provide opportunities for the developmentally disabled to be actively involved in their communities. And, all of this is the result of parents being concerned about the lives of their adult, disabled children and a community responding to help them.
**The story of the beginning of MARCH, Inc. of Manchester was written in 2015 by Margaret Steele Kaczorowski using resources of Bob Gorman, Dale Gustafson, and Mark Peterson. This is not intended to be a complete history of MARCH, just recollections recorded in 2015.*