New Approach to an Age Old Problem

“Before the birth of Exceptional Foresters in 1957, Mason County residents with mentally retarded children were presented with two stark and depressing choices: they could place their children in a state institution or continue to provide care at home. Both options had major deficiencies and posed an intolerable dilemma for many families.

Institutions were overcrowded, understaffed, and lacking in the ability to provide meaningful lives for their residents. Backlogs in admission were large with waiting periods extending seven to ten years. Once institutionalized, the child was effectively isolated from family and community. This made any prospect of readaptation or reintegration into community life unlikely the longer the client remained within the institution.

If the child remained at home, his need for special attention often placed great strains on the family structure. Individual families were forced to bear the dual responsibilities of raising and educating their handicapped children alone. Tragically, this resulted in an immeasurable amount of heartache, guilt, and not infrequently, divorce.

Opportunities for special education were still in the initial stages of development. On March 17, 1953, legislation was passed enabling school districts to have the option of offering special education. Until that time it had been the duty of the individual families to educate their children. By 1955 only a few of the larger cities had any form of education for mentally retarded children and the lack of educational opportunities was especially noticeable in rural areas of the state.

Against this bleak background, Bob and Louise Kimbel were touring the country, hoping to find a suitable program in which to educate their two young mentally retarded sons. Back at home, they finally learned of an obscure branch within the Department of Public Institutions called Education for the Handicapped. It was staffed by three people who occupied a small cramped office in Olympia. The Director told the Kimbels that if they wanted special education and a work program within Mason County they would have to do it themselves. He then scrawled out his guidelines for such a venture on two small sheets of memo paper. From such humble beginnings arose Exceptional Foresters and Rogers School. Rogers School for the mentally handicapped was named after Roy Rogers, a long time activist in efforts to aid the mentally handicapped. Rogers School was the forerunner of Exceptional Foresters, Inc. and a rallying point for the aroused residents of Mason County who were concerned with the well-being of their special citizens.” This is Exceptional Foresters by James H. Lindley

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