Aging parents whose children are developmentally delayed or mentally challenged often asked each other, “How can we insure that our children will be taken care of when we die?”  Richard Stimson, executive director and pastor of Special Gathering, Inc., a ministry within in disability community, began to look for answers to the question his member’s parents were asking, and he was stumped.   Knowing Stimson as an active advocate, parents quizzed him almost weekly and he desired to find an answer.  Yet, there seemed to be no organization that could serve as an answer for the aging parents and their children.

The situation was becoming dire.  In the 1950’s, these men and women bucked the conventional logic and societal norm.  They rejected the advice of their doctors and the professional community.  Without an organized push, individually, yet in unison, families declared, “We are not going to institutionalize our children who are intellectually disabled.  We are taking them home.  We will love them and care for them ourselves.  They are our children; they don’t belong to the State.”

Thus began a silent revolt that eventually fostered radical changes within the disability world.  People often credit President John F. Kennedy for bringing these visionary changes in this cloistered sub-culture.  However, parents had begun the revolt more than a decade earlier.  As their children matured, the parents fought brutal battles winning civil rights of their offsprings.  In the end, they won most of their battles.  They saw victories as their  children were allowed into the educational system.  They championed the group home movement.  They formed and supported vocational rehabilitation day programs.

Now, these advocates have aged.  They are too old to effectively battle the systems that engulf their children.  They are preparing for the time when they can no longer take care of their loved ones.  “Will you help us?”  was the plaintive plea that Stimson heard again and again. 

 Additionally, he had observed well-meaning social workers who did not understand the heart of these parents.  Sometimes, the professional community viewed these battle-weary warriors as overprotective, intrusive and unrealistic.  Ill informed and without a sense of history, the younger professionals occasionally did not realize that these were the men and women who had fought state and federal officials, insuring that funding would be available to pay their salaries.   Feeling their actions were in the best interest of people who are mentally challenged and in good conscience, these social workers could lead the adults who are developmentally disabled toward paths that spelled disaster in the hearts of their more traditional parents.   

Fathers and mothers also saw their friends’ children moved across the state or away from friends and jobs.  Frequently, the decisions that were made regarding the safety and well-being of disabled adults didn’t make sense to the men and women who had advocated for their children for 30 or 40 years.  Sensing the parents’ desolation, Stimson started down the road of innovative research that often provides answers in the non-profit world.  He started looking for the answer to a need.

What parents described to Stimson was an organization that would operate like a quizi-parent.  He felt there needed to be a salaried professional, not paid by the State, who would look after the interests of a disabled adult after the parents’ death.  His search led him to one organization that seemed to meet these criteria.  The non-profit he found was Disabled and Alone/Life Services, a non-profit based out of New York. 

His investigation showed that Disabled and Alone seemed to be moving in step with what parents were requesting.  Then Stimson went beyond (1 ) identifying a need, (2) searching for an answer and (3) doing thorough research.  He linked his organization with Disabled and Alone.  Special Gathering, Inc. and Disabled and Alone became covenant partners.

The final step came almost by accident.  When Disabled and Alone was given a grant to expand into Florida, they called Stimson and asked him to be their representative in the Southeast region of the US.  Stimson has been able to expand the services of Disabled and Alone.  He is now able to offer parents in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, the opportunity to help their children once they are alone.

Many non-profits are formed following the path that Stimson navigated.  This path, however, will bring success to any person or business.  First, he recognized a need.  Second, he searched for answers.  Then after doing thorough investigation, Stimson personally invested himself.  He made a commitment to be a part of  the answer.  Stimson brought Disabled and Alone/Life Services into Brevard County.