It’s hard to imagine that less than 65 years ago there existed no universal right to an education for children with special needs. In the 1940s, people with developmental disabilities were hidden away at home or relegated to institutions, segregated by a society who believed they were incapable of being educated.

Student in 1979
Student in 1979

But change was on its way in post-war America. Parents dared to dream of a life that no longer included institutions or isolation and out of this pioneering spirit, AHRC was born.

When AHRC New York City Founder Ann Greenberg placed an ad in a local newspaper in July 1949, it would spur a movement that would sweep across New York State ushering in a new era for people with developmental disabilities.

Margaret Reiss, a young mother of a three-year-old daughter with mental retardation, answered Mrs. Greenberg’s ad which invited parents to help start a nursery school for special needs children, and became one of the nine original members of AHRC New York City.

Recognizing this same need for children with developmental disabilities on Long Island, Mrs. Reiss placed her own ad in Newsday. Nineteen people contacted her and met at the Carle Place fire house in October 25, 1949. Mrs. Reiss and Margaret Riva, among representatives of the newly-formed New York City Chapter, spoke to the group of parents and urged them to take action to help their children. That night the parents voted to form the Long Island Chapter of AHRC; a year later, the chapter split into two separate chapters: Nassau and Suffolk.

Our organization’s first officers included Margarette Reiss, President; James McConnell, Vice President; Joan McConnell Treasurer; Rita Jedlicka, Recording Secretary and Helen Kaplan, Corresponding Secretary. This parent-led group banded together to form our first programs, raised funds to purchase the Brookville estate in 1958, and dedicated their lives to establishing community-based programs offering opportunities for achievement and acceptance for all children and adults with developmental disabilities.

Students engaged in storytime
An individual reads to young students

Under the driving force of Mrs. Kaplan and the Board of Directors, AHRC Nassau expanded throughout Nassau County to meet the needs of hundreds children and adults and their families. The group established an active board of directors to guide the organization, a network of local volunteer auxiliaries, and a staff of caring professionals to meet persons served in our programs. Mrs. Kaplan served as Vice President, President and became Executive Director of AHRC in 1961 until her retirement in 1988.

Through decades of changing attitudes, perceptions and unprecedented growth, one constant remains today – parents who dreamed of a better life for their children and the community who worked alongside them to make it a reality.