“What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” Do you remember who said those famous words? Or when?
For some (like yours truly), you may not have been born yet. Others of you probably remember it like it was yesterday. The year was 1958, and the quote was said by current President of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower. What does that have to do with what I’m going to talk about this week? It has to do with so much that I am not even sure exactly where to start.
1958 was a game-changing year for the special needs population in Howard County. That was the year a group of parents got together and opened a school for their children with special needs. Those children weren’t accepted in traditional school, so these parents had been homeschooling until this point. It wasn’t called Bona Vista Programs back then, though. The official name of the school was the “School for the Mentally Retarded.” Makes me shudder now, but those were different times. We’ve come a long way.
The school opened with 32 students in a converted house on West Walnut Street in Kokomo. It was funded, in part, by the United Fund (now the United Way) at a rate of 4.8 cents for every dollar they raised. Going through the history of our organization has been fascinating to me. I’m sure I will overwhelm you with facts and random tidbits throughout the year, but I feel like it’s always good to know where you’ve come from in order to see how far you’ve actually come!
In the years that followed, the organization developed a bus system for the students, started holding public parent support group meetings, opened the first workshop to allow for employment of those served, changed the name to Bona Vista, expanded Plate and Laguna streets (Thanks to then City of Kokomo Mayor John W. Miller) to construct a new building and so much more. All of that was before 1963.
Construction on our current Laguna St. location started in 1964, which (once complete) would serve as the organizations only location. It was a project taken on by the Kokomo Jaycees. But, did you know that the building was actually constructed by volunteers? It’s true! The project took longer than expected to complete because all of the work was done by volunteers and skilled tradesmen in their spare time (thank you Carpenters Union)!
Talk about amazing community partners! Money and supplies for the project were donated by clubs, organizations and individuals to the tune of approximately $25,000 (they even went door-to-door collecting donations to raise enough funds). That’s right. Hardworking people who had a vision mustered up all of the fight inside them and took it out in to the community because they saw a need, and didn’t back down until it was fulfilled. The size of their fight. That’s what eventually completed this building. Their blood, sweat, tears, grit and fight.
The three-classroom building with a workshop was finally all ours, and it still stands (with some modifications and additions) to this very day. Thankful. Grateful. Monumental. Foundational. There are not enough words to describe what an amazing jumpstart to this organization that had to have been back then. It just goes to show you that when a few people with a passion get together, anything is possible!
Even if I wrote a separate article each week focusing on one year of our organization, I would run out of weeks before the end of the year because WE ARE TURNING 60 this year! There’s a lot to be said about a non-profit who has been around for 60 years in a community our size, and we are so proud of that accomplishment. There have been moments where we have had to learn from our mistakes (such is life), but there have been more highlights than lowlights without a doubt. I can’t wait to share more of them with you this year as we celebrate, too!
If you can’t wait to hear the rest of our story until my next article comes out or you want to learn about the programs that now call that original building home (and our other programs, too)… call 765-457-8273 or email email@example.com to schedule a tour with Community Education Coordinator Troy Bowers!
Until next time… keep a good view on life!