The Jefferson County Board of Developmental Disabilities traces its beginnings to a grassroots effort by parents who wanted an education for their sons and daughters with developmental disabilities.
Until the 1950s, parents in Ohio had two choices: to send their child to an institution to receive services and give up daily contact or raise their child at home and do whatever they thought was right. The child was frequently hidden from the public, but then parents began crying out for help for their children — for their child’s education — for a better life. That’s when they began asking the state legislature for help. In the mid-1950s, parents in Jefferson County formed the Jefferson County Council for Retarded Citizens (Parent Council). Their first duties were as advocates, developers, organizers and educators of children in Sunday school classes.
The year was 1952 and the events that were occurring in Jefferson County, while not as publicized, were no less significant. It was the year that the forerunner of today’s Jefferson County Board of Developmental Disabilities was founded. The organization goes back to 1952 in the basement of Washington School in Steubenville, where eight students were enrolled and the teacher was Mrs. Homer Shew.
On Feb. 25, 1953, a council class was started in the basement of St. Stanislaus Church for those kids not approved for the state program and supported strictly by contributions. It included 10 students between the ages of 7 and 17 and the teacher was Mrs. Ruth Brennan. Throughout the decade, the program was also held in the Westminster United Presbyterian Church with Mrs. Norma Timberlake as executive director and council offices were located in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Mary V. Cable.
The 1960s brought an expansion out of the church basements to Central School located at 308 North 6th Street Toronto, Ohio. Some of the original leaders were Mrs. Herald Timberlake, Mr. and Mrs. Harold Crawford, Merrie Zeigler and Tom and Grace Abernathy.
With the passage of Ohio House Bill 169 in 1967, each of Ohio’s 88 counties was required to form a county Board of Mental Retardation. On November 9th, 1967 the first meeting of the Jefferson County Board was held. CLICK HERE to see the minutes. With the existence of the Jefferson County board came a permanent location in the Serbian Orthodox schoolrooms at 528 N. Fourth Street Steubenville. The first administrator of the program was Leonard Inglese.
In October of 1970, the adult activity center was formed and located in the St. Joseph Roman Catholic School in Toronto, and at that time it served 30 adults. The year 1971 brought about the first passage of a local tax levy for 0.8 mills. As a result of that support, the county board was able to expand and build the School of Bright Promise and the Jeffco Sheltered Workshop where it is still located today. CLICK HERE to see an original rendering. CLICK HERE to view the ground breaking. The first leaders at the School of Bright Promise were Mrs. Mary Barksdale and Sam Mauk. Sam Mauk became the first superintendent of the program in 1974, replacing Mr. Inglese. Elenor Hill was originally in charge of the arts and crafts section of the adult program that eventually became the Jeffco Workshop, while Carlo Schiappa became the first workshop director in the newly built site at 256 John Scott Highway in Steubenville. In 1978, the School of Bright Promise was among the first special schools in the state to be recognized by the Ohio Board of Education. The state board issued a charter to the county board for its operation of the school, which was only one of 17 sites in the state to receive it. Dick and Beverly Haverfield, Dick and Janet Allen, Kitty and Rusty Roth were instrumental during those times. Home Training (Now called Early Intervention) began in 1976. Susan (Swaykeus) Grenier was one of the first home trainers.
A separate state agency was soon formed after the split of the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation in 1980. This state legislature added “developmental disabilities” to the county board’s name, which then became the Jefferson County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (MRDD). This allowed for the expansion into residential services and Shaffer Plaza was formed. Named for Dr. Francis Jane Shaffer of Toronto, who was a previous board member and was known as a doctor who cared for children and adults with disabilities. The first residential director was Mary Jane Johnson. Richard Pfannenschmidt became the second superintendent in 1984 replacing Sam Mauk. In the meantime, Mr. Mauk had secured the purchase of the Navy Reserve Training Center on Cherry Avenue in Steubenville for $1 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under the stipulation that it would be used to serve individuals with developmental disabilities for a period of time. A three-part renovation of the training center was started under Mr. Mauk and finished under Mr. Pfannenschmidt. It became known as the Training Center and was managed by Connie Giamos for over 30 years.
Until the mid-1980s, teachers at the School of Bright Promise were part of the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) and had less stringent certification standards. Beginning in 1985, teacher certification through the Department of Education became a reality and they were transferred into the (STRS) system. Some of the instrumental teachers during that time were Kitty Ferguson, Diana Daly, Irene Tsapis and Cindy McMasters.
In 1985, voters passed an additional 1-mill levy on top of the original 0.8-mill measure from 1971 and created a 1.8-mill continuing levy that formed a base funding for future growth and long-term survival. It passed by a 70% acceptance rate. An instrumental part of the program in the 80’s was Sara Brown, who became one of the first administrative secretaries and moved up into administration to serve the board as finance director and transportation supervisor. She eventually retired and continued to serve as a volunteer board member. With a major effort by parent council, residential housing became a reality for the individuals served by the board. The first housing starts were located on Lawson Ave and McDowell Ave in Steubenville. Today, a total of approximately 15 single family homes are scattered throughout Jefferson County.
Dick Haverfield became the head of transportation/maintenance department, and with Mr. Pfannenschmidt had a vison of building a transportation garage. All work on buses had been outsourced at the time, but today the bus garage continues to serves the program well and houses the mechanic, maintenance crew and bus drivers. Early in the 90’s the passage of a 1.7 mill levy allowed additional growth into Community Employment and Case Management Services. Today, Community Employment and Case Management services are critical for individuals with special needs. The Programs first successful community employment occurred in 1995 with the hiring of Perry Schiappa and Clare Pulen.
In 2002, an effort was made to increase the levy dollars but was defeated by the voters of Jefferson County. As a result, the program adjusted, streamlined operations and went after any available Medicaid dollars. Plenty of work was done to refinance the adult program, and through the Medicaid waiver program the county board was able to become financially stable. Jeffco Sheltered Workshop was known for making quality picnic tables and other wooden lawn furniture. In addition, outside cleaning contracts were also a major source of revenue.
Michael Mehalik then became the third superintendent in 2008. In 2009, the Jefferson County Regional Spectrum Center began operating within the School of Bright Promise and quickly became known for providing a quality education for children with Autism. Starting with three units, it has grown to meet rising needs. The Regional Spectrum Center would not have been possible without the cooperation of all five Jefferson County school districts, in addition to Harrison City Schools. Kitty Ferguson served as both Principal and Teacher during those critical years of 2004-2010. Through careful management of the program the county board was able to increase operating reserves from twenty percent of operating expenses to forty three percent.
In 2014, a major change began within the adult program. With a letter from Medicaid, on conflict-free case management (CLICK HERE TO VIEW), county boards across the state had to figure out how to privatize the adult program. The county board was no longer able to be a direct care provider of adult day program and oversee the services through case management. In 2016, the first CEO for Jeffco was hired and the process was started. On June 1st, 2017 Michael Zinno became the fourth superintendent and what started under Mr. Mehalik was finalized on March 1st, 2019. JCBDD’s adult day program was handed off to a private provider. Starting a new era of adult day programming in Jefferson County. Before the adult day program was privatized, transportation of adults away from school buses was a major shift. Starting in January 2017, the county board no longer was transporting adults and children together on yellow school buses. Slowly, the county board privatized all adult transportation until it full implementation in September 2018. A third major change that started under Mr. Mehalik and finished under Mr. Zinno was the downsizing of Shaffer Plaza. In an effort to meet federal and state mandates to serve in the least restrictive environment the county board committed to downsizing a total of 6 beds on May 15, 2014 and was completed on February 1st, 2018.
Today, the JCBDD serves individuals from birth through adulthood and operates the functional departments of early intervention, preschool, school-aged, the regional spectrum center, case management, community employment, community integration and Shaffer Plaza.
With the help of organizations like the Toronto Jacee’s, Mingo and Wintersville Knight of Columbus clubs, Eagles and many volunteers, particularly Dick Sperry, the Jefferson County Board of DD has been the host of the regional Special Olympics competition every May for many years. In addition, under the leadership of Mary Kay Schultz, Suzie Corso and Joe Thomas the All-Star Basketball team has accumulated 4 State Basketball Championships. In addition to Basketball girls cheering won a State Championship as well. Tom Pitts went to Nationals special Olympics. It is rumored that the team colors of Blue/Yellow came from the 1st uniforms of the team that were donated by Catholic Central.
Another organization that gave countless hours and money to the program for the annual Christmas party is the Steubenville Lions Club. For more than 30 years it has been an annual event at the School of Bright Promise.
Parent Council. Our program would not be what it is today without parent council and the many volunteers that started the organization. During its hay-day camp Tom-Tom was very popular. Held annually at St. John Seminary it provided many memories to both participants and volunteers. Some of the active volunteers include Terri Kaminski, Phylis Bodo, Carlo Schappa, Grace Amernathy, Bill Myers, Kay Burkey, Kenny Mosser, Donna Mosser, Rusty Roth, Ann Remie, Grace Abernathy, Tom Abernathy, Pat D’andrea and Ginger D’Andrea.
The present County Board of DD would not be what it is today without the hard work of many employees over the past 50 years. To honor all those individuals with 25 plus years of service we have compiled a list of names. Please CLICK HERE to view all those individuals that have made a difference in not only the program but to many individuals that they served.
In addition, the County Board has been served by many community leaders through serving on the Board. To honor those individuals we have compiled a list of names. Please CLICK HERE to view all of those individuals.
We are always seeking clarification and/or additional information, if you have information that would add to this document please reach out at 740 264 5812.