>> At one time, people with mental disabilities were treated as outcasts. Many were forced to live away from their families in institutions, often in another state.
As social standards and laws began to change, Macomb-Oakland Regional Center Inc., a nonprofit human services agency in Clinton Township, found itself on the front lines of an often-bitter battle.
“You don’t hear much about the segregation these days because people with developmental disabilities don’t often speak or have knowledge of the struggles,” says Gerald Provencal, MORC’s executive director since 1978. “There was a lot of resistance (initially), when (people with mental disabilities) were allowed to move closer to their families in the same communities; some of the homes were burned.”
Today, the stigmatization has largely faded in the United States and other advanced nations, but it’s a different story in Third World countries. “We continue to host dignitaries and concerned citizens from advancing countries who want to learn best practices,” Provencal says.
Hosting foreign visitors is a cottage industry for MORC. The agency provides care and helps secure employment for 6,000 area individuals each year. Participating employers include the Palace of Auburn Hills and Kroger, along with numerous retailers and restaurants.
To build its reach internationally, MORC produces and posts instructional videos on social media channels about its services. “Our message is that people with developmental disabilities can have wonderful, fruitful lives,” Provencal says. “You don’t have to lock them up and throw away the key.” db