Miller, Abraham, Arrington — none felt they had a choice. To someone like Arrington, who tried to care for her children in the home without any help, a place like the Arizona Children's Colony was a relief.

And over the years, the children grew up. Throughout the '50s, older Coolidge residents were sent to the state hospital or sent, with no place to go, into the community. By 1962, the colony shifted its focus, and the Legislature changed the law to allow residents to stay at the colony after they'd grown up.

Conditions weren't perfect — far from it. In 1977, a class-action suit forced the center to reduce the number of people living there and dramatically improve living conditions.

Brian Stauffer
The Arrington family, including (front row) the twins and Darla Kay, and (back row) Faye Arrington and Blinda Mills.
Courtesy of Blinda Mills
The Arrington family, including (front row) the twins and Darla Kay, and (back row) Faye Arrington and Blinda Mills.

For a long time, ATPC wasn't a place you'd want a loved one to live. At one time, about 1,200 people were crammed into a facility built for around 300. People slept on cots and sometimes went hours without attention. Faye Arrington remembers it "smelling like an institution." Even the assistant superintendent admits that the only windows that existed were slits placed so high on the wall that residents couldn't possibly see out of them. If the facility were like this today, there would be no question about the need to shut it down.

To help ease overcrowding, two other Arizona Training Program centers opened. One in Tucson could hold 200 people. Another in Phoenix, which came to be known as the McDowell facility, accommodated 145.

Though the new facilities went up in the early '70s, an anti-institution sentiment had been brewing since the '60s. Thanks in part to the civil rights movement, a shift toward community integration began. It's an idea still alive today, though it's not always fully realized in some communities. Even when it is, it isn't always properly implemented (see "Arrested Development," February 18).

In the '70s, the President's Committee on Mental Retardation worked to end institutionalization and, as the conditions at many facilities came to light, people started to keep loved ones out of them.

In 1979, the Arizona Legislature followed the trend and decreed that no one could be newly admitted to ATPC. The push toward community integration in Arizona had begun.

Those were optimistic times for the disabled-rights community. John Hinz, a former director of the Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities, a well-known activist, and proud father of Missy, a 30-year-old with Down syndrome, remembers those years well.

Hinz now runs a recycling business that employs developmentally disabled adults. He pays them minimum wage — sometimes more — which is much more than they'd make in an adaptive workshop. Since his daughter was born, he's worked tirelessly to learn everything about Down syndrome, everything about the rights of disabled people.

"I've been in it for 30 years. I was a total optimistic idealist 30 years ago with my daughter. She was going to have every opportunity, and she did. She's my pride and joy," he says. "But all the promises [about supports and community integration] made have not happened."

For one thing, though there's been a push to move people out of institutions, group homes haven't always been better. Brian Abery is a community-integration specialist at the University of Minnesota. He is strongly against keeping places like Coolidge open, but acknowledges that an institution can come in any size — including a small group home.

Abery has worked to close down state-run Intermediate Care Facilities for the Mentally Retarded in his home state, but he's done so via a person-based planning method that is uncommon elsewhere in the country.

"You can't think about just closing it down," he says. "You have to think about working with individuals to find a place that meets their needs and goals."

An essential part of meeting those needs is having enough staff to handle individualized plans for each person and the resources to make sure people go the best possible place, not just the first open bed.

Hinz doesn't think we're there yet.

"In a perfect world, we wouldn't need Coolidge," he says. "There would be enough money to [care for a disabled person] one-on-one."

But there isn't. And that's why, even though he was instrumental in closing down the McDowell facility, Hinz has changed is mind and is now fighting to keep ATPC open.

His daughter was among the first generation of developmentally disabled children who were promised a life of opportunity. Missy is a shining example of what the new generation of disabled children has been able to accomplish with support. She grew up in her parents' house and now lives part time in an adult developmental home and comes home on the weekends. She works full time for her dad. When she was younger, she was the poster child for The Arc, a national advocacy organization for people with cognitive disabilities, and she graduated from a regular high school.

Then Missy grew up. So did thousands of others like her. They're getting old and, says Hinz, we're not ready.

"I'm faced with the realities those [Coolidge] parents are faced with. Missy will never get bigger or better. We have no long-term programs," he says. "We don't have a place. We don't have a resource."

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My Voice Nation Help

God bless I remember Margie and spent many nights listening to her play and sing. This article brought back many memories.

I worked at the Children's Colony back when it was ATPC, DDD, DISTRICT V. We had to go through vigorous training to work there and the training was ongoing even after we had been there for years. Everything from Client Intervention training to Total Communication and Adaptive Mealtime classes were offered so we would be well prepared to meet each individual's needs.

This all occured in the late 80s early 90s for myself. Many of the people there had been there most of their lives and were resistant to the ideal of its closing and being relocated. The Children's Colony was all they ever knew and was their home.

I am glad after all the Artcle 9 and Title 19 changes the government made one of them was not the closing if ATPC for the beloved people whom lived there their whole lives wanting nothing of the relocation, people like Sue Ann, Pilar, and of course Margie, god bless you all. I miss you so. We weren't just your Habilitation Technicians, we were family.

Maria Contreras
Maria Contreras

Hi, I have recently learned my mother along with her sister and brother were sent to a mental facility in coolidge and would like to know if this one was the only one, I'm guessing in the 60's? if so how can I learn more about this facility? and maybe some photos, I use to work for DDD and remember a video showing us the environment on the inside, is this available to the public? any and all information would greatly be appreciated as my mother has now passed and just need to know her upbringing as well as a friend of mine who has heard her mother was in there too, that is how our parents became friends and long time neighbors, thank you

Justin Marino AB MA
Justin Marino AB MA

I was an Education Specialist who was responsible for supervising teaching personnel in the Anne C. Dew School on the ATPC campus from 1970 to 1972. I was present when Vinnie Caruzo was active as a young man on campus. I would love to meet him again to congratulate him on his ability to make his home at the Coolidge facility. Please extend my best wishes to him if he remembers me. I was the person on staff that insisted he become the ATPC Mail delivery person because he could read and comprehend so well.

Merry Holidays and Best Wishes for a Wonderful New Year.

Sincerely, Justin Marino

Tammie Salke
Tammie Salke

Great story. I personally know the twins. I have worked at ATPC off and on since 1984. Started when I was 19. Many of our individuals wouldn't be here today if not for the care they receive at ATPC. There are Nurses 24/7. Many Dr.s, who see to the needs of those living there. Thank you for shedding some light on what goes on there. A big thank you from those who live there.


great article megan,as the parent of a special needs child your article was right on.those experts who beat there chest about closing down these types of places always forget to mention that when that happened alot of these people did not have families to take them in.a large percentage of them make up the homeless population that we have today and some worse yet wound up in the prison system.because at the time this happened most states did not have a system in place to handle this large population,they went as far as asking these people if they had any relatives living in other states,if they said yes i have a cousin in ohio they bought them bus tickets and sent them to ohio or where ever and never bothered to contact anyone there.60 minutes did a show about this a number of years much for these the way arizona ranks near the bottom of the 50 states for providing services to the special needs the way the term mentally retarded is an offensive term to the special needs people.many of these people have physical problems but there brain is as sharp as yours or mine.god bless you for shedding light on the plight of these people.


I still have friends whom work there. What information are you trying to obtain? I can drop them an email for you.

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