The Lyon County Association for Retarded Children was formed by a group of parents of children with developmental disabilities and interested citizens of Emporia for the purpose of providing training facilities for those children not eligible for public school special education classes. This parent group, along with the volunteers, worked long and hard for something in which they believed. Without money, without a building, without many other things, but with strong determination and great fortitude, they set about providing a school for their children with developmental disabilities.
In September 1961, classes started in a single upstairs room at the Emporia Recreation Center with five children enrolled.
When the state declared this room unsafe for the children, Dr. John King, President of Kansas State Teachers College, gave them the use of a vacant fraternity house on the college campus. At the end of the first year, 12 children were enrolled and there were 20 volunteer workers serving them. During the second year, a teacher was hired and a five-day-a-week program for two hours each morning was begun. Children from Lyon, Coffey, Greenwood, and Chase counties attended.
Faced with this rapid growth, it became apparent to the parents and volunteers that additional space was required. Judge, Jay Sullivan, and other interested citizens saw to it that, through the generosity of various individual estates, funds were made available to construct a new facility at 707 South Commercial Street. This building, constructed in 1965, was the first building in Kansas to be used specifically for the education of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
In March 1969, bids were let for the construction of a sheltered workshop. While awaiting completion of the new building, eight individuals performed subcontract work in a small metal building. In January 1971, an addition approximately doubled the size of the original workshop building. The workshop was originally formed as a separate corporation; however, on July 1, 1972, the Duane F. Hetlinger Memorial Sheltered Workshop and the Lyon County Association for Retarded Children merged into a single corporate entity and functioned under one board of directors. On July 1, 1974, the facility changed its name to Hetlinger Developmental Center & Sheltered Workshop Inc.
With the state mandate on special education adopted by Kansas in 1973-74, all school-age children were transferred to a variety of special level classes in the public school system. This had been the long-term goal of the founding mothers and fathers. While the facility was changed from an all-purpose school for children with developmental and other disabilities, it continued with the workshop program. An infant stimulation program and a preschool non-categorical program were operated under a cooperative agreement between Hetlinger Developmental Center & Sheltered Workshop Inc and the Flint Hills Special Education Cooperative until 1989 when the school district assumed full responsibility for the children’s programs.
With the Developmental Disabilities Reform Act of 1995, the facility became the Community Developmental Disability Organization (CDDO) serving Lyon County. As such, the agency is the single point of application for all services for persons with developmental disabilities. In addition to serving Lyon County, Hetlinger became the CDDO for Wabaunsee County in 1996 and for Morris and Chase counties in 1997. CDDO responsibilities include serving as the single point of application, eligibility determination, and referral for persons seeking services in the four counties.
In September 1995, Restated and Amended Articles of Incorporation were adopted, which included a name change to Hetlinger Developmental Services Inc. The agency is licensed as a Community Service Provider by the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services. The workshop holds a certificate from the U.S. Department of Labor under Section 14 (c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 CFR Part 525.
Hetlinger Day Services offers a variety of activities from which program participants may choose. The workshop offers training in vocational and work skills. Local businesses and industries subcontract assembly-type jobs to the workshop and program participants are paid a piece rate for each completed item. Employment services provide assistance to individuals who are interested in community placement. Training is provided in job readiness skills and job coaching is ongoing once employment is achieved. The enrichment program was created for individuals who are of retirement age, medically fragile, or not interested in work as part of their lifestyle choices. Program participants practice life skills and enjoy leisure-time activities.
New activities have been added over time to create opportunities for program participants to learn new skills. Aluminum can recycling is available to the public, as well as picking up donations of aluminum cans from local businesses. Hetlinger operates its own screen printing business, which is busy most of the year.
The physical facility is 50 years old and has served the organization well. A remodeling of the main building was completed in 1996, and an expansion project was completed in 2000, adding an east and west wing. A vast building renovation creating a new entrance and adding a new workshop was completed in the fall of 2012, doubling the size of the facility.
Hetlinger Developmental Services Inc is a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt organization operated under the direction of a nine-member board of directors and managed by an executive director. The Hetlinger Foundation, which was established in 2002 to support the charitable work of Hetlinger Developmental Services Inc, has its own board of trustees.