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Abilis of Greenwich Celebrates 60th Anniversary

More than 60 years ago Greenwich residents studying the problems of children with developmental disabilities made a disturbing discovery. They found that these children were being turned away from registering for kindergarten and that, further, there were no educational alternatives.

This led to the formation of the Greenwich Association for Retarded Children in 1951. Last week, that organization, now known as Abilis of Greenwich, celebrated its 60th anniversary in ceremonies at the First Presbyterian Church of Greenwich.

U.S. Jim Himes, D-Greenwich, and state Sen. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, were on hand to present citations to Abilis, and Martha Eustis of Riverside shared a short piece about the agency’s early years.

Eustis noted that it began with a committee of laypeople and civic leaders convened in 1950 by the Greenwich Community Council, a predecessor of Greenwich United Way.

When they learned that the door to education was closed to Down’s children and those with other developmental disabilites, they opened a class for children ages 5-15 opened in September 1952 in the former Pemberwick Community Center.

The Community Council committee also identified four long-term goals for children with developmental disabilities that were prescient, Eustis said. Besides the day school program, they were: expansion of facilities inside the public schools for children with disabilities; job training; and job placement in local industries.

“Abilis continues to concentrate much of its work in these very same areas,” said Eustis. “It’s also sobering to think that, 60 years later, we still must work to provide access to the basic community services--education, job training and job placement--that so many others in our community take for granted.”

Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei issued a proclamation commending Abilis for representing “the best and highest values of the town: respect for others; independence, hard work; working collaboratively; and unfettered access to all the wonderful organizations, people and amenities our great town has to offer.”

David Gortz of Wilton will serve as president of the Abilis board of directors for 2011-12. Three new directors also were elected to three-year terms, including Jerry Cincotta of Riverside, Kris Burbank of Stamford and Frank Mercede of Stamford.

Do you know of anyone who has been helped by Abilis? Share your stories below or email .

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