Marcfirst was started in 1955 by a group of families of children with disabilities to provide support to each other and their children during a period in American history when children with disabilities were often excluded from the public school system.
On November 18th, 1955, the original non-profit corporation was incorporated as the McLean County Association for Mentally Retarded Children, later changed to Marc Center in 1980 and to Marcfirst in 2007. The agency started as a school serving five students. By 1972, the program had increased to 36 students, five classrooms, and five teachers and teaching assistants. In the fall of 1979, a federal court decision held that school districts would be required to provide appropriate programs for children with developmental disabilities between ages 3 and 21, so these children entered the public school system. Marcfirst continues to provide supports for families of children in the public school system through advocacy, linkage supports, and transition planning for students finishing school.
As young people developed into adults, young adults and their families faced new challenges. There were limited options for families to find adult living situations for their adult child with disabilities. The children often remained at home until their parents were too aged to care for them or they were institutionalized far from their families. These family concerns precipitated the development of various residential supports by Marcfirst. In 1979, Marcfirst began providing community residential alternatives. Marcfirst established group homes for adults and children, apartment buildings, H/IP (Home/Individual Program) homes, and other alternatives based on the needs of the individuals supported. Our goal has always been to provide an array of housing options that will enable families to remain close to their adult children and yet provide the adult child with the opportunity to maintain their independence and choice in where and with whom they live. Today, we have over 40 adults living in our group homes throughout Bloomington-Normal.
Community Integration and Life Skills
Another challenge historically faced by families and their adult children was how to support adults with developmental disabilities in having a meaningful day. Originally, people with disabilities were sent to sheltered workshops or developmental training centers. These environments did not allow for individuals to integrate into the community. In 1995, Marcfirst closed its sheltered workshop and began to assist people with developmental disabilities by helping them develop vocational skills and gain employment in our community by providing supports for the persons in the community or their work environment. Our focus is to help individuals with developmental disabilities develop natural supports in our community as part of a meaningful life.
A Lifetime of Support
Today, Marcfirst provides a continuum of services and supports for families, children, and adults throughout their lifetime, including residential, vocational development, employment, high school transition, and therapeutic supports for children.