Corvilla began over 40 years ago in 1959 as a dream in the hearts and minds of a handful of parents of mentally retarded children. These parents went to Logan and asked for help. They asked that some kind of temporary living care be given to their children while they (the parents) tried to live the smallest part of a normal life. Logan was not ready to move into respite care (temporary living) or residential care (full time permanent living). As a result, these parents started a fund to provide their own program of living care. They called themselves the Catholic Organization for the Retarded (COR).
The fact that these pioneering parents were Catholic was incidental to the needs of their sons and daughters. If they were going to go it alone and pave the way to provide living care for the mentally retarded, they wanted the community to know by what faith the home would be governed and by what faith they had the courage to begin such monumental task.
After two years of fund raising events, building a stronger leadership, and developing a community component of the organization, the first respite care was offered. It was primarily a sitter service so parents could trust their special son or daughter in the hands of capable, caring and directed staff. This alternative gave great relief to the parents' minds. For the first time they were able to have time for themselves without worrying about the inexperience, immaturity, and insensitivity of teenaged sitters.
The first home was opened in 1970 on Manchester Drive in South Bend. There was a temporary Director, and soon a Sister of the Holy Cross was named Acting Director. In a very short time the need for full time, 24 hour a day, 7 day a week care became necessary. One reason for permanent care was seen when the parents of a temporary resident died while she was in care. Another was seen when parents discovered that their children were happier in the care and company of the home's staff and peers. Some of the children were so severely handicapped that their parents simply could not care for them at home as they grew older.
The onset of full time care was a catalyst for many changes. A full time Director had to be hired, but there was no money. Permanent full time staff was needed, but, again, there was no money. Parishes all over South Bend held bake sales, card parties, and raffles to raise funds. Nevertheless, the fact had to be faced, the need had outgrown their finances.
The COR Board of Directors appealed to the Catholic Church to take charge and make COR's mission its own. The Church had to decide between St. Ann's elderly program in Fort Wayne and the COR program in South Bend. The needs of the elderly seemed greater, but the Catholic Church would not ignore the needs of the retarded.
The Brothers of the Holy Cross allowed one of their own to be hired as full time Director, donating his salary back to the home. In addition, many Brothers and Sisters worked as volunteers in the home. COR became Corvilla in 1963 and began using the motto ("House with a Heart"). The organization prepared to grow and move forward to meet the rising demand for their vital services.
Incredibly, just as things were looking stable, the house on Manchester was destroyed by fire. Fortunately no one was hurt, but what to do next was the problem. The Brothers housed the residents in their hall while an alternative was sought. There was no money to buy another house.
There is a saying about a door opening each time one closes. A sudden tragedy struck the Micholich family of South Bend. Their son died in an auto accident. From the foundation set up in Fred Micholich JR's memory, a house was donated to Corvilla, Inc. Its purpose was set by a legal document that stated that the home and land on Bulla Road must always be used to provide housing for the mentally retarded.
The Bulla Road site was perfect to carry on Corvilla's mission, but renovation was needed. An entire wing had to be added providing six more bedrooms and two baths. The garage was turned into a large dining room, and the house needed to be furnished. The need for funding continued to increase and special events helped raise the money. One exceptional event, the Annual Dinner Dance, became a tradition for the South Bend community. At first, a Cadillac was given away, then the raffle prize was $10,000. It seemed that the need for additional funds would never end.
A lot of the labor and materials for the Bulla Home were donated. A large crowd was on hand when the Bulla Home was dedicated in 1971. The help of our friends in the community contributed greatly to the success of the Bulla Home. This has continued as the community still helps support Corvilla's mission.
During these years the home needed no license. Its mission was so new that the laws did not yet reflect a need for regulations. Brother Flavius directed this "Home with a Heart" for 14 years. During this time the Board of Directors voted to accept children from Welfare who had no family and also voted to accept children of all denominations. The Board cared only about the child's need. Brother Flavius put the mission and philosophy of the Home in writing. The mission emphasized the Catholic orientation driven by faith, optimism, and respect while dedicated to providing dignity, growth, and guidance in the lives of the residents.
The Home housed 16 persons, some children and some adults. Changes in the law required that homes be licensed for children under their care. Then another law change reduced the home size to 14 residents and a very expensive fire sprinkler system would have to be installed.
Finally, in 1983 another law was passed. The rest of the country was catching up with us. The need for homes for the mentally retarded instead of impersonal institutions where they were "warehoused" was seen. Another new law called for homes for retarded adults to be licensed.
In 1984 Brother Flavius was weary. He had kept up with so many changes. He resigned in the spring of 1984. A new Director was found. The Board of Directors passed a resolution to adopt the mission and philosophy statements earlier written by Brother Flavius. It passed unanimously. These have become the legal guidelines for all Corvilla actions ever since.
At this time, the Home was caring for 13 individuals. Two were children and 11 were adults. Another new law required the separation of children and adults. The difficult decision was made to become licensed for adults. The new law only allowed 8 residents per home. This created the need for many more heartbreaking decisions. These decisions had to be made in order to salvage the mission Corvilla had begun.
Weathering this storm, Corvilla once again created a stable home for the mentally retarded. In the spring of 1987, Corvilla's Board of Directors analyzed their mission and voted to grow to meet more of the needs of the community. It was known that over 200 mentally retarded persons were living in nursing homes and institutions in St. Joseph County. The Board voted to get the money from somewhere and to offer to as many of those as possible a chance to live in a loving family in a Corvilla Home. In October of 1987, Corvilla oversaw the opening of the Myrtle Home for six more individuals. After some minor construction, an additional bed was added. Currently, Myrtle is home to seven men.
In 1988 a home was rented on Trent Way in South Bend for five women. It never seemed to be "their" home, so in 1995 a home was purchased on Roelke Drive for these five ladies. Five ladies continue to live there today.
Lastly, in 1992 a home was built on Fellows Street. This duplex houses four men and four women although each section of the duplex can operate on its own. Today the men and women live as one family.
Community support is still necessary for Corvilla to survive and grow. Today, we conduct a variety of fund raising events that involve many segments of the community. A Snowball Softball Tournament, our Annual Have A Heart Campaign, A Blues Bash at Halloween, plus the support of many organizations such as the Knights Of Columbus help us raise funds to fulfill our mission and provide "Homes with a Heart" for people with developmental disabilities.
There is no ending to the Corvilla story. It is only with the help of our friends throughout the community that we have been able to do so much, and touch the lives of so many. The Corvilla mission continues to reach out and give honor and life to the memory of the daring pioneers who began with nothing but a dream.
Though much has changed since 1959, Corvilla's mission is the same today as it was in the beginning ---To serve people with developmental disabilities and provide them with a loving home. To nurture them as children of God with the right to dignity and the sacred freedom to build full and meaningful lives.