SCARC Celebrates Milestones in Serving Individuals with Developmental Disabilities in Sussex County

November 7, 2017

As SCARC celebrates its sixtieth anniversary this year, Richard C. Lecher, Ph.D. is also being recognized for his forty-five years as President and CEO of the organization.  When asked of what accomplishment he is most proud, Dr. Lecher waves the question aside saying, “That would imply that SCARC’s success was in some way about me.  It’s not.  It’s always been a team effort here and a great deal of providence.  God has always led us in the right direction and provided for us……a home, a grant, …..the answer, just when it was needed.”

When Dr. Lecher was hired in 1972, he took over the reins of a fledgling organization founded in 1957 by parents of children with developmental disabilities.  More often than not, until the 1960s and 1970s, children and adults with developmental disabilities spent their days at home unwelcome in public schools, community groups, and in the workforce.  Unwilling to accept that their children’s lives were seemingly without value or purpose, parent volunteers began running small programs in various Sussex County church basements and meeting rooms for both children and adults with disabilities.   Soon after Dr. Lecher, then a young teacher with a master’s degree in special education, was hired to oversee this growing organization, two new federal laws – the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and in 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), would be passed.  These laws would have a significant effect on the rights of individuals with developmental disabilities to an education and community participation.  They would also increase the need for organizations like SCARC to respond to the changing needs of their community.

Public school systems were ill-prepared to address the needs of children with disabilities after the passage of these laws and turned to SCARC for help. They sent their students with cognitive, learning, and physical disabilities to SCARC as tuition students. SCARC added new programs including an Early Intervention Program for very young children and a day training program.  As more public schools began to develop programs that allowed children with disabilities to attend their own neighborhood schools, SCARC increasingly focused on the support needs of adults with disabilities and families providing care for loved ones with developmental disabilities of all ages.

RCL now

Now, as SCARC celebrates its sixtieth anniversary, their services reflect an ongoing commitment to addressing the needs of individuals with developmental disabilities in whatever capacity is most needed and in all seasons of their lives.

Today, SCARC operates twenty-three group homes and seven supported living apartments serving over one hundred adults with developmental disabilities.  Day Habilitation supports are provided in six day programs serving adults with both physical and intellectual disabilities.  Each of these programs is designed to meet a specific range of needs, from the very active, Harvest Home Explorers to the laid back Senior Program. Individuals with disabilities, who want to work, but need support in order to find and maintain employment, can utilize SCARC’s Supported Employment services.  For those individuals who are preparing to work in the community, SCARC provides Career Planning and Prevocational services to help them reach their goals.   SCARC rounds out its services by offering a wide variety of recreation and family support programs serving individuals from age 5 through adulthood.

The quality of life of individuals with developmental disabilities and their families have been significantly enhanced for five decades by the availability of critical services and supports in Sussex County.  SCARC has impacted the lives of thousands of individuals and their families by  following a guiding principle that we all, regardless of our abilities or disabilities, have a purpose for our lives and deserve the respect of our communities. Throughout his extraordinary tenure at SCARC, Dr. Lecher’s commitment to this tenet has never wavered.  Although he doesn’t recall making a choice to do this work, growing up with a younger brother with disabilities, and working at a camp for the individuals with developmental disabilities during college summers, formed the foundation for Dr. Lecher’s long career in the field.  Dr. Lecher’s devotion to supporting the needs of individuals with developmental disabilities is evident in the words he uses to describe his work – mission, ministry, spiritual journey.

The journey is far from over. The need for services and supports continues and grows.  As SCARC celebrates their sixtieth anniversary of service to Sussex County residents with developmental disabilities and their families, they have framed a new vision statement for their organization, “Our vision is a community of respect, equality and dignity for people of all abilities.”  It celebrates the incredible progress and resiliency of this organization and the commitment of the people who work so hard to support the diverse needs of individuals with developmental disabilities.  But it also speaks to the work that is unfinished, the recognition of the ongoing quest for, as Dr. Lecher says, “….a deeper quality of life” for individuals who all too often still exist on the fringes of our communities.  And it is that laudable quest to promote the full inclusion of individuals with developmental disability in their communities, and to protect and promote their right to make choices about how, where, and with whom they will live, that continues to energize Dr. Lecher and his team.  They remain confident that they will continue to overcome the hurdles and challenges of supporting individuals with developmental disabilities, and that the next sixty years will be even more rewarding than the last.