Queens Centers for Progress Celebrates 65 Years of Service

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Evolves from Helping Children with Cerebral Palsy to Providing a Lifespan of Services for a Wide Range of Developmental Disabilities


...Our services will continue to grow and evolve to meet the needs of people with developmental disabilities and their families. We are proud of our 65 years of service and look forward to our next 65.

It all began in 1950, when a group of concerned parents banded together to seek much-needed services for their children with cerebral palsy—a lifelong disorder that affects muscle control, movement, and learning abilities and is typically caused by damage to the brain either during pregnancy or shortly after birth.

Initially called United Cerebral Palsy of Queens (UCPQ), this nonprofit agency opened their first Children’s Center in a storefront on Parsons Boulevard in Jamaica. In 1952, they moved to the basement of a wood frame house in Queens (now affectionately known as “the haunted house”) and provided educational and therapeutic services to children with cerebral palsy in consultation with local hospitals.

Natalie Katz Rogers, the “First Lady” of UCPQ, first got involved with the agency soon after its formation, organizing a Volunteer Motor Corps to transport children from their homes to their treatment. A dynamic commercial real estate developer with tremendous organizational ability, Katz Rogers played a key role in several areas of the fledgling agency—getting local doctors, therapists and teachers involved, hiring an Executive Director, and recruiting new board members. She even participated in the first fundraising telethon, which featured television personality Dennis James as emcee. In 1953, Natalie was elected President of UCPQ’s Board of Directors.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the agency grew exponentially in both the number of individuals served and the diversity of programs provided. “It was amazing how fast we grew during this time,” Katz Rogers recalls. “I didn’t know much about medical matters, and I didn’t even have a family member with cerebral palsy, but I knew I was good at organizing and that, to be successful, we needed to be more structured. So I sought out talented people who could provide the educational, medical, and vocational services, as well as the funding for the facilities that our clients needed, and enlisted hundreds of community volunteers.”

Leaving the presidency in 1958, Katz Rogers became Chair of the Building Committee and oversaw the construction of their first fully dedicated building, named the Children’s Center, at 82-25 164th Street in Jamaica, which initially provided therapy and educational training for children. Katz Rogers found the property and, because funds were severely limited, secured the architect, and recruited construction people to do the design/build for a minimal fee. As the number of programs grew, and the children themselves got older, the building was doubled in size in 1966 to accommodate vocational and facility-based training workshops for adults.

In the 1970s, as the de-institutionalization movement allowed many with disabilities to leave state-run institutions and live in the community, the agency expanded their services beyond those with cerebral palsy to include individuals with other physical and developmental challenges.

In 1974, a new training and treatment center was built to accommodate the growing number of adults in need of vocational and life-skills training. In tribute for all her tireless work and contributions, the board decided to name the building after Katz Rogers, despite her pleas to the contrary. “I yelled and screamed at everyone to name the building differently,” she says with a laugh, “but they insisted. So I jokingly suggested they call it the Katz Meow. Now, I’m incredibly proud that it bears my name and I truly consider it an honor.”

Throughout the 1980s, as the people UCPQ served continued to age, the agency added services for seniors with developmental disabilities, emphasizing community-based recreation and health education. Residential services were added in 1979 with the opening of the Robert T. Groh Residence in Jamaica Estates, and the agency now operates six intermediate care facilities and three individual residential alternatives that serve 78 adults with developmental disabilities. Each residence provides a safe home-like environment where individuals can increase their daily living skills, relax after returning from daytime activities, and participate in recreational and social activities.

In 1989, the Daniel Wieder Center at Bellerose was opened to provide day habilitation as well as five residences housing 50 people. Today, over 320 individuals attend day habilitation services at the Bellerose and Jamaica facilities.

In 2001, the name of the agency was changed to Queens Centers for Progress (QCP) to reflect the wide range of developmental disabilities served including autism, Down syndrome, seizure disorders and brain injuries. In fact, fewer than a third of the individuals served today have cerebral palsy.

“It got to the point where having Cerebral Palsy as part of our name was a bit of a misnomer,” says Executive Director Charles Houston. “The agency was already starting to include other disabilities when I joined in 1981 as Director of Vocational Services. Back then, we had two main service areas—children and adult vocational. Now we offer a lifespan of services from pre-schoolers to seniors, and serve several other types of developmental disabilities. So it made sense to change our name.”

The new name also reflected a shift in the profession to provide more person-centered support, teaching those with developmental challenges to become more independent and to integrate more fully into the community. For example, day habilitation services focus not only on acquiring basic life skills, such as shopping and handling money, but include group activities such as trips to the movies, excursions to parks and museums, and even volunteering at senior centers. Vocational programs provide “supported employment,” where individuals are taught to perform tasks on the job site and learn first-hand how to travel to the job and to get along with supervisors and co-workers.

From its humble beginnings, QCP now serves over 1,500 individuals with a staff of 600 and an operating budget of $35 million. However, securing the financial support to continue their work will always be a challenge. Maryann McAleer, Director of Development, has been with QCP for over 17 years and is involved with the agency’s annual fundraising events including their Golf Outing, Annual Gala, and Footsteps for Progress Walk.

“It’s important for us to raise funds so we can provide the assistive devices that our clients need,” says McAleer. “This can include simple touch screen instruments such as iPads to innovative equipment that uses eye movement and synthetic speech to help those with disabilities communicate and express themselves.”

While the agency’s programs and the disabilities served may have changed over the years, the dedication and compassion of its staff and volunteers has not. Many become involved with QCP to support a friend or family member with developmental disabilities, while others are simply drawn by the chance to help those in need.

Now in her 90s, Katz Rogers is still active with the agency she first joined in the early 1950s. "I don't know what drove me to spend the better part of my life working as a volunteer on behalf of children and adults with cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities,” she says. “I saw the need, felt intense compassion, and this became an unswerving challenge. While great progress in care and treatment has been made in the 66 years I have been involved, future generations must hold these gains, build on them, and climb new mountains in search of human betterment. I plan to do as much as I can for as long as I can.”

As Executive Director Houston states: “QCP is here to provide services and supports that will enable people to make the most of their abilities and become full participants in their neighborhoods and communities. Our services will continue to grow and evolve to meet the needs of people with developmental disabilities and their families. We are proud of our 65 years of service and look forward to our next 65.”

For more information, contact Ron Gold, MarketingWorks PR at (516) 297-1637 or ron(at)marketingworkspr(dot)com.

About Queens Center for Progress (QCP)

Queens Centers for Progress (QCP) provides children and adults who have developmental disabilities with the opportunities to maximize their skill development, independence and integration into community life. QCP believes that all people can learn and—despite any developmental disability—can make meaningful choices about their lives. Services offered include education, therapy, job training and placement, day programs, advocacy, service coordination, recreation and housing to help clients lead fuller and happier lives. For more information, visit http://www.queenscp.org.

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