Dr. Robert Shushan
Special needs people include those with Down's syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and other afflictions.
Today, special needs people play important and productive roles in the world, but it wasn't many years ago, they were belittled and institutionalized or hidden in their homes.
All of this changed through organizations such as ECF, a Culver City, California based non-profit which became renowned for its work with children and adults with developmental, emotional and learning disabilities.
But when Bob (1929 – 2015) became ECF's executive director in 1958, the organization was drowning in debt and about to collapse.
Here is how ECF rose from the ashes to become such a success story.
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In 1958, Bob was a Los Angeles area high school teacher and counselor, when his sister came to him in desperation.
Her son was severely developmentally disabled and ECF, which brought hope to their family and to other families, was in chaos.
If ECF closed, she and those other families were fearful for the consequences to their children.
Bob assured everyone he would step in "temporarily."
He mediated conflicts that were tearing ECF apart, and then began uniting families by creating life changing productive programs.
Among those programs was to teach developmentally disabled people to "learn and earn" as he persuaded employers to hire them in assembly and packaging work.
This was a big step in showing that special needs people could become productive members of society.
This led to another of ECF's successful programs: to teach independent living skills, such as how to cook, how to catch busses to get to work, and how to maintain an apartment.
Now many of these young people could live independently, and build meaningful lives.
Another program taught grooming skills, and another attracted medical personnel to donate their services to offer dental work, glasses or other essential care, so these exceptional people would look and feel more like those in mainstream society.
For Bob, that "temporary" job lasted over 40 years, and took ECF to the forefront of its field, as it became a godsend to the developmentally disabled and to their families, and became a message of hope for the rest of us.