One Monticello Life: Drew County’s Business of the Year, Drew County Developmental Disabilities CouncilNovember 14th, 2010 by Joe Burgess
The concept for the SESAME SCHOOL program began in the fall of 1970, shortly after the opening of DELTA COUNSELING and GUIDANCE CENTER. At that time, children were being seen in the Counseling Center who were in need of special programs and services that were not available in Drew County.
A steering committee of Drew County citizens formed in January, 1971, to study this problem and incorporate as the Drew County Mental Retardation Council, a non-profit corporation, with the purpose of opening and operating a program for retarded children.
A grant was obtained from the Arkansas Children’s Colony in Conway to run a five week pilot program beginning June, 1971. Miss Suzanne Cooke was hired as the teacher, a position she held for three years. Additional staff included volunteer aides from interested women in the community and Monticello Junior Auxiliary.
The Monticello Jaycees made the Jaycee House on Oakland Street available to the program and contributed their time and efforts to renovation of the building to make it suitable for the program The program began operations as a full day program in the fall of 1971 with thirteen children enrolled.
In the spring of 1974, needing additional space, SESAME SCHOOL moved to Williams Hall at the Vera Lloyd Presbyterian Home. In March, 1973, SESAME SCHOOL began raising money for the construction of a new facility to be built in the Health, Education, and Cultural Complex. Construction funds were awarded on a 90/70 matching basis through DDS moneys with the other 10% being raised locally.
The ground breaking ceremonies for the new SESAME SCHOOL building was held March 18, 1975. The opening ceremonies for the new facility was September 14, 1975. Board of Directors at the time were Charlene Cavaness, Billy J. Barnett, Leola Pace, Tommy Free, James Ross, Jr., Norma Eubanks, Classie Jones, Jesse Coker, Olen Cockrell, Raymond Bagwell, Irene Puckett, Curtis Merrill and Sandra Webster.
During the 1970′s, DELTA COUNSELING AND GUIDANCE served as Administrator of services. SESAME SCHOOL contracted with Delta for services and part-time staff: program administrative services, mental health support services and speech consultant. Jeannette Poe served as Head Teacher form 1975-1977. Betsy McIntire served as Head Teacher from 1977-1980. Mr. Richard Wallace, Administration services; Mrs. Reatha Mae White, aide; and Mrs. Oledia Crook, Program Coordinator.
The summer of 1980, the Board of Directors chose not to renew its administrative contract with DELTA COUNSELING and GUIDANCE. Ms. Jane Cross was hired as Director/Head Teacher and Mr. Richard Wallace, CPA, continued to handle the administrative services. During these years of operation, the SESAME SCHOOL program was geared primarily for children and these children were now becoming adults. The inappropriateness of jointly serving children and adults was apparent. In 1983, the Board applied for and received from DDS, an Adult Development Component.
The Adult Development Component opened in a residential building on Gaines Street, November, 1983. There were ten adult consumers with Mrs. Crook and. Mr. Bob McManus as staff. The goal for this component was to train developmentally disabled adults with in-depth home and community skills. The house was furnished as a home rather than a school.
With the adults moved out of SESAME SCHOOL to another location, the agency was able to expand its preschool program at SESAME SCHOOL to serve more children under the age of six, and was now housing two components; preschool and school age.
In 1987, the Board of Directors was approved by DDS to pilot a comprehensive community based service system for people with disabilities. This program was to include not only Day Habilitation, as in the Adult Development component, but also included work and living options for developmentally disabled adults. The first adult work began in January, 1988 and two residences, with five consumers, were started in September, 1988.
The Board of Directors of Drew County Mental Retardation Council approached the Board of Directors of The Other Way to operate their Thrift Store. The Adult Developmen agency was again looking for more appropriate day services for adults not working. The consumers and staff from Adult Development moved to The Other Way Store in November, 1989 and the Agency began managing the store for The Other Way.
In January, 1990, Drew County Mental Retardation Council changed its name to Drew County Developmental Disabilities Council, Inc., (DCDDC). The Council was composed of five components: Preschool, School Age, Adult Development, Supported Employment, and Alternative Community Services. This Council served fifty-five consumers and had 28 full and part-time staff. The Foster Grandparent Program and volunteers are also utilized.
In June of 1996, Drew County Developmental Disabilities Council purchased the Other Way building and the Other Way officially became a service component run by the adults in the Adult Development Center. By June of 1998, Drew County was serving over 100 consumers in 11 South Arkansas counties.
In November, 2000, Drew County Developmental Disabilities Council purchased the home of the late Dr. Van Binns, located at 203 East Trotter. The two story home, which also served as. Dr. Binn’s office, was renovated and housed the Drew County Adult Center and Other Way Thrift Store on the lower level, and Administrative offices on the 2nd floor. Staff was now at 170 full-time and part-time employees, 20 of which were our Adult Development Consumers, who were paid 1 hour each day to work in the Thrift Store. We had 110 consumers and provided services in 13 counties. The ACS Waiver continued to be our largest component andDrew County was the second largest per capita Waiver provider in the state of Arkansas, with 80 Waiver clients.
In 2004, Ms. Cross retired, and Sandra Patrick was hired as Director. Sesame School out-grew the capacity of the existing building, and two portable classrooms were added to the site in 2006. The Board and executive staff members began writing a long-range plan for expansion of services. Property located at 168 W. College was purchased with plans to renovate the old school buildings into administrative offices and classrooms. The project was completed in March, 2007.
The original Sesame School became known as Sesame School #1 and the new site became Sesame School #2. Administrative Staff is housed in the front portion of the College Street property and the Adult Development Program remains at 203 E. Trotter.
Sesame School grew to over 100 children in July, 2007 and is now the largest component of the Agency. In June, 2007, DDS declared that Ashley County was an underserved area for children’s services. The Agency began the process of developing a preschool component in Crossett, AR. Sesame School of Crossett was opened and temporarily housed in Hastings Elementary in July, 2007.
In March, the Drew County Developmental Disabilities Council held a public meeting to discuss their plans for a proposed pre-school, which could serve up to 180 students, age 5 andunder, year round.
After the public meeting, the DCDD council voted to continue with their application for grants and loans to assist with the projects construction. The $3.2 Million Pre-School addition is proposed to be built at the old Monticello High School location, at the intersectin of South Hyatt and West College Streets.
The goal is to have the facility completed within 2 years.Traffic access will be from West College Street, with the structure being located at the “old high school” property, on the former football field site.
The project recently received governmental approval, and constructin will begin soon.
The mission of Drew County Developmental Disabilities Council, Inc. is to provide a community based service system of individualized instruction and support geared toward independence, self-support, and normal living for persons residing in Drew County and Southeast Arkansas regardless of sex, age, disability, creed, marital status, or ethnic or national membership.
This article mainly based on information provided by the DCDD.