SCARBOROUGH — There’s something about the new Morrison Developmental Center building at 60 Chamberlain Road that just makes people smile.
It could be the lovely grounds – green, lush and park-like –or the cheery yellow shingles, or the welcoming portico and curved, two-story reception area.
But the smile doesn’t fade when you enter. Any preconceived notions about “special schools” must be abandoned as visitors are met with sun-filled rooms, bright colors and large, open rooms for instruction, therapy and recreation.
Executive Director Jim DeCamillis is full of smiles, too. As head of the center since 2000, his dream of a new space for the school’s users has finally been realized through financial and in-kind donations and the dedication of volunteers and the community.
The center previously operated out of an old building it owned on Veranda Street in Portland and from a second rented space in Scarborough. With the new building complete, the Veranda Street property was sold to Martin’s Point Health Care and the lease on the second space was dropped. Though there are still a few things to put away and pictures to hang after the move, the new space has been open for business for about two weeks.
Though it’s gone through a few changes in its 50-year history, Morrison Developmental Center is a non-profit agency that offers several programs for both children and adults with developmental disabilities, including cerebral palsy, mental retardation, muscular dystrophy, epilepsy and autism.
A school program serves school-aged consumers with multiple handicaps. It is funded by local school districts and referrals come from the districts.
The AHEAD program tries to enhance the daily lives of its multiple-handicapped clients with attention to social, emotional and physical development, problem solving and independence. It can include physical and occupational therapy according to individual needs.
The Community Integration Program gives adults with special needs a chance to establish relationships within the community through supervised employment and volunteer opportunities.
Many people in the Portland area are somewhat familiar with the center’s Seedling Program, or at least with its products. A maximum of 20 multiple-handicapped adults are paid for their work in the center’s greenhouse. Plants are then sold to the public. The new facility is equipped with two greenhouses that are expected to be open for business by mid-September.
New this year, the center is offering the Friends First Preschool Program, which serves children without disabilities and offers opportunities for integration during some parts of the day with children from the developmental preschool.
DeCamillis said the center now serves 82 people. But he expects the number will grow, since the new facility’s capacity is 120.
As DeCamillis walked through the hallways, he greeted clients and staff by name. His personal connection with them is obvious; his passion for the population he serves, infectious.
He said he was first inspired to work with physically and mentally challenged people when he was in grammar school in the 1950s. Though uncommon back then, his school had a special class serving that population. DeCamillis said he always stuck up for them when other children would taunt them on the playground.
Once he was in high school, in the early 1960s, he pursued his interest, working at a state institution in Waltham, Mass. Calling the care the residents received “pretty atrocious,” DeCamillis said he remembers being curious about the chocolate milk all residents were given for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When he questioned the practice, he was told they were conducting an experiment to see the effect of chocolate milk on teeth.
“I walked away thinking, this is not right – there’s something wrong with this,” he said. “It really made me take a look at society.”
Now, he said he is thrilled to be able to offer his consumers the beautiful new space. Built at a cost of nearly $6 million, the new facility was funded by donations, the sale of the old building and “a bit of borrowing,” DeCamillis said.
And the neighbors, he said, “have been great.” Residents of Magnolia Place started a raffle drive to raise money for the building and they’ve already begun volunteering at the center. DeCamillis said he looks forward to developing relationships with more neighbors and with the community, adding that their input at a public meeting helped improve the entrance design to the new building.
“We really took the suggestions of the community to heart,” he said.
He hopes to see many of them at an upcoming grand opening on Oct. 22 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
And, no doubt, he’ll greet them all with a smile.
Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or email@example.com.
A group of Morrison Center staff and consumers gathers at the entrance to their new building in Scarborough. Established 50 years ago, the agency has five different programs tailored to consumers by age and need.