In 1946, six parents from Philadelphia came together to make a better life for their children who had been born with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy was not widely understood at the time and children living with the condition were often placed in institutions. These parents believed their children deserved more out of life and, together, set out to change the lives of people with disabilities.
Initially called the Cerebral Palsy Society, the group embarked on fundraising campaigns to help support direct care services and spread awareness of cerebral palsy, its causes, and its effects.
In 1950, this young organization became affiliated with the national United Cerebral Palsy Association and changed its name.
In 1955, the nation’s first resident home for individuals with disabilities was established in Philadelphia. Overbrook Hall was the beginning of UCP’s residential programs.
The 1960s was a decade of growth for United Cerebral Palsy in Philadelphia. In the context of creating “The Great Society,” federal money had been allocated to fund community-based initiatives for the underprivileged. Slowly, people began to recognize that with a few additional supports, people with disabilities could participate in their communities and lead more fulfilling lives. UCP was providing support for adults in the areas of independent living, vocational training, employment, and recreation. For children, UCP offered child development and day care programs, which provided children with cerebral palsy and similar disabilities the opportunity to learn and development to their fullest potential through specialized support and therapies.
At UCP, teens and young adults with disabilities found peer support and community recreation programs. With the Monday Niters, the Crusaders, the Rays and the C.T. Mitchell Bowling League, UCP became a destination for friends to get together and have fun. These groups offered a variety of recreation, social and education programs, many of which continue today.
As attitudes towards people with disabilities continued to change, UCP began participating in demonstration projects. Innovative programs in areas such as early childhood development, independent living and respite care during the 70s have set the stage for many of the community-based supports that UCP currently provides.
During the 1970s, UCP’s Kryptonites athletic team was established, providing competitive sports opportunities for people with disabilities.
In 1978, UCP stated its Respite Care Program. Respite offered temporary placement for an individual with a disability at times when daily support could not be provided due to illness or hospitalization , or to allow a break for a family member or caregiver. Today, UCP’s Respite Care services continue to be a vital support for individuals with disabilities, making it possible for people with daily care needs to remain at home with their families or living in the community.
In the 1980s, the questionable conditions at state-run institutions for people with disabilities gave strength to the fight for community-based solutions. Not far from Philadelphia, the closure of Pennhurst State School and Hospital gained national attention as residents were transferred from a state institution to community care. At this time, UCP began developing community living programs for people with disabilities and was among the helping organizations that offered a safe haven for Pennhurst residents.
In 1987, UCP moved into its current headquarters in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia. Formerly the campus of Spring Garden College, this building offered the necessary amount of program space on one floor and was well suited to meet the organization’s needs.
UCP child development programs were originally created for children with special needs. In 1988, when new onsite day care services for the children of UCP staff and the surrounding community became available, typically-developing children were included. This was the first step towards establishing today’s UCP Best Friends, a fully-inclusive program for children with and without disabilities. With approximately half of the children in each class receiving Early Intervention services, children with a diversity of needs learn together every day.
In 1990, UCP began building new homes for residents rather than making modifications to already existing houses or apartments. Today, 18 of UCP’s CLA’s are modern ranch-style homes, providing 24-hour support with barrier-free living for three individuals. All of UCP’s 30 residential properties are fully-owned by the organization.
In 1992, with the help of a generous grant from The Widener Memorial Foundation, the Widener Memorial Playground was built at UCP with accessibility as a priority. With a large ramped deck, special safety surfacing, an athletic track, and room for picnics, the playground added outdoor recreational space for Adult, Children’s, and Community Recreation Services. Today, the playground is well used and offers the element of community integration, as it is open to the public during UCP business hours.
In 1993, the first Family Support Legacy Fund, at the time known as the Special Purpose Fund, was established. Made up of individual donor-named funds, UCP’s Family Support Legacy Fund helps individuals and families living with a disability cope with an unexpected emergency, acquire needed assistive technology and adaptive equipment, or help people live more independently. By investing the principle of today’s 25 individual funds, the income generated is used to assist families in the Delaware Valley.
In 2000, UCP embarked on a capital campaign to make necessary improvements and upgrades to its center in Chestnut Hill. The renovations included a new front entrance, the creation of a shorter and more convenient route to Children’s Services, the installation of an elevator, a new HVAC system, and new fully-accessible bathrooms.
In 2005, UCP Best Friends earned their three Keystone Stars, a Pennsylvania initiative to improve the quality of child care programs.
Today, UCP of Philadelphia & Vicinity continues to be a dynamic organization that strives to meet the ever-changing needs of children and adults with disabilities living in the community.