Nobody told a group of parents and guardians of Winfield State Hospital residents they couldn’t close the hospital and provide homes for every resident without a home.
So they did.
Nobody said they wouldn’t be able to provide full-time medical care for the profoundly disabled people.
So they did.
There were those who claimed Creative Community Living wouldn’t be able to staff the homes in Arkansas City, Winfield and El Dorado.
But they have.
"I always believed it was possible," said Sharon Bird, founder and president of CCL’s board of directors. "Sometimes obstacles got in the way, and I wondered … but only briefly."
More than 20 homes later, the CCL family is going strong and doing what many said could not be done - caring for the most profoundly disabled with love, dignity and respect.
The closure of the hospital in 1998 followed several years of uncertainty for parents and guardians of the residents. Bird, whose son Michael lived at the state hospital, formed a parent group early during the closure debate to keep everyone informed of the legislative happenings. The parent group lobbied to keep the hospital open, feeling strongly that their profoundly disabled and medically fragile children could not survive outside the institution.
"Those were such traumatic years for everyone," Bird said. "Unless you have a severely disabled child, it’s difficult to understand the panic, the fears and the uncertainly."
When the state closure committee first announced the Kansas Neurological Institute in Topeka would be the institution to close, parents of WSH residents were elated. Then the very next day, the closure committee reversed its decision and announced it would recommend that WSH be closed.
"I remember a reporter asked me how I felt," Bird said. "I said I felt like I had been mugged and robbed."
With Bird’s leadership, the parents and guardians grew even stronger and more determined to provide the homes they felt their children required. A subcommittee of the Winfield Area Chamber of Commerce formed to help local communities deal with the hospital’s closure and provided the funds for a closure plan prepared by a consultant, Dr. Mike Strouse, who heads a large community agency in the Overland Park and Lawrence area.
"All of a sudden, the parents were a nonprofit organization and even had a name," Bird said. "It was just amazing how it all came together."
The first board meeting was held in February 1995. Five of the seven people at that meeting remain on the board of directors today: Bird; David Seaton, publisher of the Winfield Daily Courier and Arkansas City Traveler; retired school superintendent Bill Medley; and parents and guardians John Foster of Douglass and Judy Welch of Winfield. Another one of the seven, Ed Szczepanik of Wichita, was a faithful and active member of the board until his death in the summer of 2001.
"I think this program is a sign of Winfield’s real strength," Seaton said. "The challenge of serving exceptional individuals when the state hospital closed really got us going. It’s a good feeling to be where we are."
Five group homes in El Dorado that were being auctioned by the Department of Housing and Urban Development were purchased by CCL. Then the board began negotiating to build homes in Winfield and Arkansas City.
When the hospital closed its doors on Jan. 28, 1998, every resident had a home. Many are still being looked after by people who cared for them at the state hospital.
Dick Rock, a former state senator, and Greta Goodwin, who succeeded Rock, played great roles in helping CCL get started. Rock now lives in Arizona but remembers those early days with great satisfaction for having the opportunity to work with such wonderful people in such a worthy mission.
"CCL stands there as a living testimonial to the power of parental love, and, ultimately, CCL shines forth as the nation’s most effective and compassionate solution to the closure of mental retardation hospitals," Rock said. "I can think of no other endeavor in my lifetime that has given me a better feeling. Touring CCL always provided a cleansing of the soul."
"When CCL started, it was only the dream of parents and guardians," Bird said. "Our company has grown fast, and I think that it is due to the fact that the people we serve have been placed here by their family. I know our residents are surrounded with care and compassion from our CCL staff. We are truly a family."
Creative Community Living of South-Central Kansas Inc. is a locally controlled, nonprofit company that serves approximately 135 people in Cowley and Butler counties. We are truly parent-driven; at least 60 percent of our board of directors must be parents and guardians of persons with developmental disabilities.