VIEWPOINT: Celebrating a legacy of service at Village of Progress

This summer I’ve been rummaging through the Village of Progress archives, preparing for our 50th anniversary. A few things surprised me. They might surprise you, too.
It always starts with parents.
Long before there was a Village of Progress there were a group of parents raising children with developmental disabilities. These parents believed that their children deserved a life of opportunity and respect. And so they formed the Blackhawk Association for the Mentally Retarded. That was in 1957.
This parent’s association learned what other communities were doing to aid persons with disabilities and advocated for their children’s education and for their future.
After years of helping to establish and support special education classes these parents started to dream about life for their children after they graduated from school. And so began the Village of Progress.
Wherever you see changes that help those with disabilities, you’ll always find a group of parents who began with a dream.
It takes leaders with passion.
In the Spring of 1969 this Association asked Robert Glaser, then just a 26-year old instructor at the Dixon State School, to create a Day Training Center in Ogle County. By the fall of 1969, the Village of Progress officially opened its doors in Mount Morris. True to Bob’s vision, the VOP offered a sheltered workshop and a day care for children not able to attend public schools.
Not long after, Bob was introduced to John Herrmann, the Operating Manager of Caron Textile. John was a man with a passion for excellence in business that was a strong as Bob’s passion for excellence in disability services. The two men quickly became strong friends and allies.
As the VOP grew, John arranged for the operation to use part of its building for production work. Six months later, John followed up on this unprecedented show of support by leading his company to donate two acres of their land to the VOP and advance a loan to help the VOP construct its facility. That’s where the Village of Progress has been located ever since.
Since then, the VOP has expanded from 6,000 square feet to its current size of more than 25,000 square feet. Bob believed in the power of industry and was never afraid to explore new opportunities for the workshop. John believed in the power of industry as a force for good in the community.
In 1972, John traveled to Springfield to receive the Francis J. Gerty Award for excellence in community-based mental health care. John remained actively committed to serving adults with disabilities until his death in 2000.
It takes a village.
No matter how strong the parent base or how passionate and capable the leadership, social good seldom happens without the support of the community. In this case, that support has come in many forms.
A driving force in moving from a parents’ group to a functioning day training center was passage of the Ogle County 708 referendum to provide funding for local mental health and disabilities services in 1968. The county, its residents, and its many townships, clubs, and churches, have been faithful supporters of the VOP ever since.
I imagine that the parents who helped create that first Blackhawk Association over 60 years ago could hardly imagine how far their dream has progressed, and how many families have been touched and served.
So you see, we’re not just celebrating 50 years of the Village of Progress, we are also celebrating 50 years of a county constantly demonstrating its kindness and compassion.
Thank you. Without each of you we could not be who we are.
Please join us on Wednesday, Aug. 28, from 1-2:30 p.m. as we celebrate together a wonderful legacy of service.

Brion Brooks is executive director of Village of Progess, Inc.


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