Since its humble beginnings in 1952, The Arc of Mercer County has striven to advocate and provide services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The First Years
In the spring of 1952, a small group of women met at the American Legion in Sharon, Pennsylvania. These women were mothers of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They wanted to make the community aware that their children and others with intellectual disabilities were not being properly educated. They also wanted to find a solution to this long-neglected problem.
By June of that year, that group was recognized by the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children as the Mercer County chapter. Three months later, the Mercer County Association for Retarded Children opened a Day Care Training Center, one of the first schools of its kind in northwest Pennsylvania.
This Center gave children with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to attend classes set up to handle their special needs. Children were taught at least one skill that could enable them to help support themselves. These classes also offered students the chance to develop social skills, self-esteem, and self-confidence.
It took time, but the success of the pre-school program brought acceptance from the school system and the community. The Association, with the eventual support of the United Fund of the Shenango Valley Area, was able to rent a house at 30 North Irvine Avenue in Sharon. In June 1956, this house became a sheltered workshop and home for pre-school classes. The agency now offered services for young adults and therefore became the Mercer County Association for the Retarded, or MCAR.
Residential Program Beginnings
As the years followed, MCAR's programs expanded. In 1971, MCAR initiated a Residential Program, and with the concept of normalization in mind, opened its first group home in 1973. A home for 12 women, this house was to be the largest single facility MCAR would ever operate in a residential setting. Some of the residents had already been living in the community but others came from state institutions, such as Polk Center.
By 1974, a minimal supervision residential program was started. This program offered both men and women apartment living in a rental complex. In some respects, this served as a pilot program in Pennsylvania because, at the time, very few minimal supervision programs of this kind were in operation.
During 1975 and 1976, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania became committed to the mandate of returning people living in institutions to their home communities. In Mercer County, planning for these deinstitutionalized individuals was directed mainly at Polk Center where the majority of Mercer County residents had been committed.
MCAR's residential program had taken individuals from Polk in the past few years, but these people had to fit into the structure of the existing program or facilities. The deinstitutionalization process now mandated that programs be developed to fit people – a complete switch from earlier mandates. At the end of 1978, MCAR opened its first small home for former Polk residents and continued opening homes until the middle of 1979. All the residences were small family-type homes with no more than three individuals.
In 1990, MCAR began community-based residential services, including Family Living and In-Home Residential Services. The Family Living Program provides residential services for an individual in a family setting rather than a group home. MCAR contracts with an individual or a family that provides the opportunity for a person to develop and grow as part of a family unit. The In-Home Residential Program provides staff to work with an individual with intellectual and developmental disabilities in their natural home.
Vocational Program Growth
Other changes also occurred at MCAR over the years. The sheltered workshop, which became a vocational rehabilitation center in 2002, relocated to meet its growing need for space. An additional 14 acres adjoining the MCAR property in Hermitage was donated by the Pennsylvania National Guard Armory in December 1975.
Also, in that month, a new wing was added to the present MCAR facility. The Furniture Refinishing Department opened for business in its new building on North Hermitage Road in April 1995. The Dan Cinicola Building was constructed to house the Pallet and Machine Shop in 1986. MCAR purchased the building previously occupied by the Blind Association adjacent to MCAR in 1990, converting it to a facility for Administration offices. The Mechenbier Center in Greenville, adding another vocational work facility, opened in August 1994.
In 2016, the Office of Developmental Programs (ODP) started a new initiative for individuals to experience their communities. ODP developed a new service, Community Participation Supports, this was established to be a flexible service to promote: increased potential for employment, development of sustained social roles and relationships, natural supports enlargement, increase independence, and experience meaningful community participation and inclusion. MCAR continues to provide quality services in the areas of: agency with choice, community employment, home and community habilitation, life sharing, older adult day center, residential group home living, and respite services. MCAR Inc.’s initiative is to provide comprehensive support to empower individuals in all aspects of their lives.
Restructuring and Name Changes
In 1996, the organization revised its structure to address its evolving mission and services. It also changed its name. The organization became a family of non-profit subsidiaries, with each organization focusing on a specific function.
The parent organization was established as The Arc of Mercer County, a chapter of The Arc of the United States and The Arc of Pennsylvania. The Arc concentrates on advocacy efforts for policy and systems changes.
MCAR, Inc. now functions solely as a service provider for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Because the term “mental retardation” is no longer used and has been replaced by “intellectual and developmental disabilities,” the name MCAR is no longer an acronym, and its letters no longer stand for any words.
The other subsidiaries of The Arc include The Arc of Mercer County Foundation, MCRA, Inc., and Fairfields, Inc.
Today, The Arc of Mercer County and its subsidiaries are recognized as the largest, oldest, and leading non-profit organization in Mercer County serving families and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.