Community Options was incorporated in 1977 as a sheltered workshop for twenty-seven adults who had spent most of their lives at the Belchertown State School. This workshop was located in Belchertown, as part of a retail store that sold crafts made at the workshop, and from outside vendors. The goal of this workshop was to provide genuine employment for people with developmental disabilities who had never had a job before. For many of these people, this was their first opportunity for work in the community. This was a time of great change with many state institutions closing and more services being based on community integration.
In 1981, it became clear that the workshop was still a congregated and segregated setting that actually hindered people from integration, and so it was restructured. The store itself remained, but each adult was found employment according to his or her talents and interests.During this period, Community Options began to take a more active role in vocational services for people with developmental disabilities and promoting the model of natural supports and non-segregated employment.
Community Options distinguished itself on the belief that the best support system on the job would come from co-workers. This was very different that the “job coach” model more commonly used. Nurturing and supporting genuine relationships in the workplace, allowed for greater job success and more natural integration.
Many of the people that were a part of that original workshop are still involved with Community Options. As they have transitioned into retirement, the agency itself has adjusted services so that each individuals needs are still met. While there has been an increase in the number of people served, the overall size of the agency has remained small to maintain the integrity of the agency.
New people continue to be recommended by the Department of Developmental Services and the agency continues to develop and evolve.
In 2001, Community Options merged with a program called PACE (Promoting Accomplishments during Community Experiences). This merger allowed for a greater range of services, which suited the needs of people whose goals do not necessarily involve working full time and benefit from a more structured day. This also included a landscaping service that provides employment for a few select individuals.
In 2009 began a relationship with the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission. Through MRC, Community Options is referred people looking for employment. The individuals served through MRC, tend to have diverse backgrounds and experiences, and more varied types of disabilities. In addition, Community Options also began working with students’ that are transitioning out of the school system, and who are interested in pursuing employment.
Currently the agency serves approximately eighty consumers. While the agency has evolved over the years and grown, the commitment to tailor services to each individual has required the overall scale of the agency be small. The schedules for those eighty people are vastly different, and for each person the employment and vocational services vary to suit what is best for them.