The history of the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities is one of initiative, advocacy and leadership. Throughout the decades, the focus has always been to provide supports and services so individuals with developmental disabilities reach their full potential.
We trace our history back to 1938. It was then that Mrs. Josina Lott of Toledo began educational programming for persons with developmental disabilities in her dining room. She started her “school” with four students. The present programs of the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities have evolved from those early classes. Mrs. Lott called her initial efforts “an experiment” to prove her contention that “every child, regardless of mental or physical disabilities, should receive an education.”
The number of students increased and Mrs. Lott moved from her apartment to the basement classroom area in the Rosewood Presbyterian Church. When the student enrollment hit 55 it was evident that the school had outgrown its church basement location. With the assistance of parents, the Chamber of Commerce, Toledo Board of Education, and the Juvenile Court, Mrs. Lott moved in 1945 to a building at Heffner and Kelsey in East Toledo which was leased from the Toledo Board of Education for one dollar a year. She incorporated her school as the Lott Day School.
The Lott Day School was described in its brochure as a “story of hope.” The brochure said, “Through the non-profit, non-sectarian work of the Lott Day School, many young lives are changed from problems into people with futures.” Tuition was $95 per semester.
In a 1944 interview, Mrs. Lott said her success lay in adjusting to the child, rather than expecting the child to adjust to the teacher. The earlier specialized training is given, she said, the sooner the child reaches his highest capacity.
In 1950 Lucas County was one of the original seven counties to form the Ohio Association for Retarded Children. Toledoan Jay Schuer was elected president of the organization in 1956. He would later preside over the Lucas County Board of Mental Retardation.
Meantime, Mrs. Lott was also concerned about the children who had been in school a number of years, had reached the limit of their academic capacity, but were still unable and unprepared to contribute to their own support. She proposed a new idea, an adult “training-for-earning program.” This was developed as an extension of her Lott Day School to help young adults learn job skills. She asked the school auxiliary for $170.00 to start the program.
In the mid-1950’s several parents of children who were in the “training-for-earning” program partnered with the Lucas County Association for Retarded Children, or LARC, formed the non-profit Sheltered Workshop Foundation, the precursor of Lott Industries.
In 1958 a delegation from LARC convinced the county commissioners to place a levy on the ballot to raise funds to help educate children with mental retardation. The .3 mill levy passed. It was the first local tax levy in Ohio to support the education of children with intellectual disabilities.
Mrs. Lott’s school in 1959 merged with a county program operated by the Child Welfare Board. She continued as principal. In 1961, a 55 acre tract of land in south Toledo was selected as the site for a new school. Larc Lane School opened in 1962. Lucas County became the first county in the nation with a program for children with intellectual disabilities that operated without any cost to parents.
In 1965, ground was broken for a new adult facility to be built across the street from Larc Lane School. When it opened, it was heralded as the only workshop for adults with intellectual disabilities built by tax money. This facility underwent major renovation in 1988 to accommodate the new community-based supported employment program.
The State of Ohio created county boards of mental retardation and developmental disabilities in 1967. Programs for persons with mental retardation and/or developmental disabilities would no longer be administered by the Child Welfare Board. Jay Shuer was elected the first Board chairman.
When the Board was created in the late 60’s, student enrollment was 576. There were 170 adults in sheltered employment. By 1985, enrollment in the children’s area had increased to 515. Adult Services enrollment was 826. Today, the number of individuals touched by the Board is upwards of 5,000.
Jay Shuer School in Oregon opened in 1971. That same year, adult services expanded with the rental of a building on 12th Street in Toledo. In 1975, the adult program expanded again with the acquisition of a building on Ashland Avenue. In 1976 the vacant Imperial Wayside Furniture store on Telegraph Road in north Toledo was purchased to be used as yet another adult facility.
While the sheltered employment program, Lott Industries, maintained status as a not-for-profit corporation, its operations and staff were managed by the Board of MR/DD.
In 1971, individuals from Lucas County participated in the first Ohio Special Olympics, held in Cleveland.
Josina Lott died in 1973 leaving behind her a legacy that continues to grow. She was inducted into the Toledo Civic Hall of Fame in 2000.
In 1990, Lott Industries made history, becoming the first employment program for persons with developmental disabilities to be awarded the prestigious Ford Motor Company Q1 Preferred Quality Award. Then superintendent of the Board, Fred DeCrescentis, said, “The awarding of Q1 to Lott Industries proves persons with developmental disabilities can be of value and make substantial contributions to the community.”
The facility on Ashland Avenue was closed in 1991 when a new Adult Services Center/Lott Industries plant was opened on Holland Road in Maumee. That same year, because of a declining school-age enrollment, the Board ended classes at Jay Shuer School.
In 1991, the Board created a new not-for-profit corporation, Community Living Options, to administer the supported living program. Another not-for-profit corporation, Preferred Properties, was created in 1992 to manage the supported housing program.
An Adult Services Center on Hill Avenue opened in 1994. Also in 1994, the Early Intervention Program relocated to the new EduCare multi-services center. At dedication ceremonies, the Director of the Ohio Department of MR/DD said the opening of EduCare was an example of how Lucas County “is at the forefront in providing services to children and their families.”
Larc Lane School was closed in the mid-90’s. Children with developmental disabilities were now enrolled in public schools. The building was renovated to accommodate the ever-increasing seniors program.
In 2002, the functions of Community Living Options were incorporated into Board operations.
In 2009, at the urging of self-advocates, the term mental retardation was removed from the name of county boards. The advocates argued that use of the “r” word was a constant reminder of the many negative stereotypes that mask the true talents and capabilities of people with disabilities.
Two directives from Medicaid initiated a major reorganization of how services to people with developmental disabilities are provided. The Board could no longer be the entity that administers Waiver dollars and also accept those dollars to provide services. Medicaid also stressed that services be delivered in non-segregated environments.
In compliance with those directives, the Board ended its transportation services in 2016 and launched a series of steps that would separate Lott Industries from Board administration. Day habilitation services provided by the Board ended in 2018. Today, transportation, day services, community employment, and senior programs are provided by the private sector.
The Board maintains its role as Medicaid Administrator and the source of Service and Support Administration.
The Board currently operates:
- Children’s Department which provides the Early Intervention Program, service and support administration to families of school-age children, and transition services to adulthood;
- Community Inclusion provides staff support for recreation and Special Olympics, the FANS Network, travel training, and employment navigators;
- Investigative agents who review major unusual incidents and allegations of abuse and neglect;
- Provider Supports; and
- Service and Support Administration.