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Colin Anderson Center

High Hopes at Colin Anderson Center

By Jennifer Efaw

Driving north on Route 2 from St. Marys, you pass the typical mixture of houses, farms, and stores. Soon, though, you come on a large fenced property, with several large buildings. Though the buildings are built in a range of architectural styles, the overall impression is "institutional." If the weather was mild, at one time you might have seen people pushing others in wheelchairs, or just enjoying themselves in the shade.

Was it a hospital? A school? A workplace? Well, yes to all three. But not exactly, or entirely, any one of these. Colin Anderson Center was an "Intermediate Care Facility for the Mentally Retarded" according to the government. But to the thousands of people who lived there over the years, it was simply "home."

My first visit to Colin Anderson was as a six-year-old Brownie Girl Scout. It was just before Christmas in 1969, and my leaders, Mrs. Anderson and Mrs. Bills, told us that we would be going to the Center to sing Christmas carols and play with some children who would not be able to spend Christmas with their families.

Concerned that we might be upset about something we didn't understand, they prepared us well. They told us that the children might look or act differently than we did, but that no one would hurt us. Some children, they said, might want to hug us. Some of them were just very affectionate, and they were always very glad to see visitors. It was up to us, they said, whether we wanted to hug or not. Many of the children would be unable to run and play, but we were assured that they would enjoy our company anyway. It has to be remembered that this was long before "mainstreaming" became popular in the schools. Most of us had not had any contact with anyone who was much different from us in any way, and our leaders understandably didn't want us to be frightened.

We went on a snowy, windy day. We sang carols and played games. The children were just as Mrs. Bills and Mrs. Anderson said. Most were around our age, some older. Many were in wheelchairs. I particularly recall one very pretty little girl in a wheelchair. Her legs were thin and atrophied from lack of use, but she laughed as one of the aides pushed her around as we played "Ring Around The Rosy." For some reason the memory of those thin legs and that laughing face have stayed with me.

No one really had to worry about us being frightened. I think, in some ways, children are much more accepting and tolerant than adults. We all had a great time, we as much as they.

You can read the rest of this article in the Winter 1998 issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.