Today, sitting on a 22-acre site 1.5 miles south of Ottawa, the organization provides daily supportive services to over 100 individuals with developmental disabilities. Ottawa Friendship House strives to change disabilities into abilities, allowing each individual the opportunity to gain greater independence.
Here is a brief timeline explaining our existence:
In the early 1950’s there were no special education mandates; programming for children with disabilities did not exist. Rather than viewing her son’s Down syndrome as a disability, Jane (Schwerdtfeger) McCormick saw things differently. She saw Bob’s potential and worked with him at home, watching him achieve things other professionals had not thought possible. She knew that her son and others would benefit from daily structured programs.
In 1953, Jane organized a group of mothers who had children with special needs. The group was called the Mother’s Club for Exceptional Children.
In June of 1955, the group decided to offer a six-week summer course for children with developmental disabilities. The United Auto Workers offered the use of a vacant building on the south side of Ottawa free of charge. By the end of the summer, the program was so successful that a fall term was started. Known as Echo School, Jane felt that its purpose was to develop the children within the limits of their capabilities – to teach proper manners, to accept discipline and to work in a group.
As the children grew and developed, they reached adulthood and needed to have purpose and meaning in their lives. In 1966, the Ottawa Friendship House project launched. Its goal was to make men and women with developmental disabilities an integral part of the living community, to help them become productive, self-respecting citizens.
1980 to present
By the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Ottawa Friendship House moved to its current location and built its first residential homes for semi-independent living. Bob was not only one of the first students in Echo School, but he was also one of the first to live in a residential home at Ottawa Friendship House. He also participated in its sheltered employment program.