TECH History, Hutchinson, KSWhere It All Began
In the 1970’s, resources in the Hutchinson community were limited if you were a parent to a child with special needs. Esther Yoder and Elwin Cabbage, both parents to children with special needs began a coalition group that quickly became the original Board of Directors for what is now, TECH, Inc. Their goal was simple – to find a way to provide services, specifically job training, to young adults graduating from high school with special needs. They had a vision that their child, regardless of their disability, could be a contributing member of society and have a job of their own after graduation. The coalition knew where they wanted to go but needed someone to help them get there. In 1973, the Reno County Occupational Center opened its doors and Maurice Cummings was hired as their first Chief Executive Officer.
The Reno Occupational Center opened its doors in the Emerson Carey Building with 5 clients. We received approval from Vocational Rehabilitation as a service center and by the US Department of Labor, Wage & Hour Division as a sheltered workshop. Maurice Cummings is hired as the first director of the organization. While the mission statement was not yet defined, our purpose was clear – to provide job training and work opportunities for young adults graduating from high school.
Maurice spent his time advocating for the people we serve with local and state government, fundraising for service needs and taking care of administrative functions, even designing TECH’s original logo.
In 1975, our first group home opened at 500 East Ave A in Hutchinson. Neighbors first opposed the concept of the home but after meeting their new neighbors, they quickly welcomed them with open arms. During this time, the Center was also approved as a United Way agency, making us 1 out of only 7 designees in Reno County at that time.
As the Reno Occupational Center continued to grow, we began to learn from parents and families what needs weren’t being met by community resources, TECH wanted to lead the way in providing those services. In 1978, the Early Education Center began admitting children with disabilities ages 3-6 free of charge to parents. The following year, the pre-school program expanded their student offerings and began serving children of all abilities.
In 1980, the Reno Occupational Center became the Training and Evaluation Center of Hutchinson (TECH) to more accurately reflect the work that we did.
As the Early Education Center began to grow, an interagency agreement was formed between USD 308, Reno County Education Cooperative (RCEC), and TECH to provide services to children ages birth through age 5. This partnership was a unique model for providing early education services in Kansas, and allowed a stable fundraising stream to begin supporting early education services in Hutchinson.
As funding needs began to rise, we knew we had to focus on fundraising efforts. While we had strong relationships with local civic organizations that financially supported our efforts, we decided to host our very first fundraising event. In 1983, the first annual Tree Festival is held in the lobby of First National Bank.
In 1984, TECH goes through another name change and is now the Training and Evaluation Center for the Handicapped, Inc. Soon after, we outgrew our space at the Emerson Carey Building and needed to find a new home. TECH moved the administrative offices to 1300 East Avenue A where we remained for 30 years. The work center moved to 3000 East Avenue B and is still located there today.
By this time, TECH was serving 60 people and had a staff of 35. We had more than 30 clients find employment through TECH’s supported employment program.
In 1989, TECH was honored to receive a gift from the Theodora and Mildred Miller Estate that initiated the TECH Foundation. Today, the Foundation supports the work of TECH, Inc. and is a way for community members to leave a legacy, ensuring the future of TECH for years to come.
Later that year, a fund drive was launched to raise $300,000, which would secure future services for the Early Education Center.
TECH continued to experience steady growth into the 1990’s. In 1992, two additional group homes were opened, one on Landon Street and one on East 27th Street. TECH’s priority has always been to create opportunities for community involvement and integration for the people we serve, which is why we always looked for housing within neighborhoods for our group homes. We want those served to feel valued as a community member and experience living in a home setting.
As growth continued, so did the support of the community and in 1994, a group of women came together to form the Hearts & Hands for TECH Auxiliary. The group’s primary function was to plan, organize and support fundraising events to benefit the Infant and Toddler program and TECH. Some of the early events that the group was a part of were the Women’s Auction and the TECH Women’s Golf Tournament.
Up until the mid-90’s, the State Department processed eligibility requirements when someone was looking for disability services. In an effort to streamline the process, the Kansas Legislature passed the Developmental Disabilities Reform Act, creating Community Developmental Disability Organizations (CDDO’s) and TECH is designated as the CDDO for Reno County. We were 1 of 28 in the state of Kansas at that time. Today, there are only 27 CDDO’s.
TECH expanded our service offerings once again and in 1996 began retirement and end of life transition programs. Up until now, our primary focus had been helping the people we serve live a full life and now, we were able to start helping those very same people live life to the fullest in retirement and be relied on to help them live comfortably in the final stages of life. While this can be difficult, it’s something that the families of the people we serve appreciate the most – knowing that their loved one was cared for in the best way possible through their final days.
At the end of 1998, Maurice Cummings retired as the President/CEO of TECH and Brenda Maxey succeeded him, becoming the second President/CEO in TECH’s 26 years of operation. Maurice also received the Distinguished Leadership Award by InterHab, our state association, for the work that he did for TECH and our industry.
This decade was spent building relationships with community partners and expanding our service offerings in an effort to create more opportunities and greater independence for those we serve. In the early 2000’s, TECH staff worked hard to create a partnership with the city and the people we serve began utilizing the new Reno County Area Transportation System (Rcat) as a means for transportation. This gave them greater independence and more access to the community.
In 2000, we obtained a paper shredding contract that employed the people we served and used existing bailing equipment. We shredded 800,000 lbs of paper the first year. In 2002, with the help of Dillons, TECH was able to open the TECHnology Lab with six computer work stations, creating endless opportunities for people to explore technology, gain knowledge and increase their learning sources. (Read inset story about the TECHnology Lab).
Advocacy was a strong part of TECH’s Foundation and in 2003, TECH joined with four other service providers in court to prohibit SRS from reducing funding to programs that served people with developmental disabilities. TECH Supported Employment also began a Summer Work Experience program through a federally funded Workforce Investment Act. That same year, we also added a new group home with the help of Interfaith Housing and the Hutchinson Correctional Facility, bringing our group home count up to 6. Interfaith Housing helped TECH build a new duplex for 6 clients just four years prior.
With the help of local business owners, Bob and Ann Bush, City Beverage partnered with TECH to host Main Street Hops for TECH. The fundraiser featured different breweries coming together with Downtown Hutchinson businesses to serve beer and food to ticketed guests. The event was a success and continues to this day. Main Street Hops for TECH raises $20,000 annually in unrestricted funds. A similar event with wine is started in 2009.
In 2009, TECH begins an e-waste recycling program at our Avenue A location, creating job opportunities for those we serve and also eliminating waste such as computers, batteries and small electronics from local landfills. The program, a free service, is a huge success with the community.
This decade kick-started a time of significant progress for TECH. In early 2010, TECH began exploring the opportunity for an e-waste recycling facility. This program would not only address a need in our community but it also created job opportunities for the people we serve. In 2011, TECH received our KDHE permit for the facility and e-Cycle was launched and we received our first semi-trailer load of items from a regional customer.
In 2012, TECH moved our Adult Life Skills day service program to the former Midwest Feed Building in Downtown Hutchinson, creating our first footprint in Downtown Hutchinson. We were excited to get involved in the Downtown community and immediately began participating in Third Thursday events, opening the door to a plethora of community relationships and integrating us into the community.
That same year, the TECH Art Program organically grew with the help of local artists who began working with the people we serve to create silk scarves and original paintings. With the help of Julie Black, local artist, the TECH Art Program officially launched and has grown immensely throughout the last several years. With the growth of the art program, it had been our dream to open a working art studio in the unfinished portion of the ALS Building and we began fundraising efforts to create this space. In 2015, the Bobby Megli Family helped make our dream come true with a gift that would complete the project. TECH Artists began working in the new TECH Art Studio in 2016.
2015, 2016 and 2017 provided a new look and a new location for TECH. In 2015, we rebranded, offering the community a fresh, colorful look at who we are as an organization. The following year, TECH also gave its largest fundraising event, the Holiday Festival, a face lift, creating the TECH Gala and with the help of our community, raised over $100,000 for the first time ever! That same year, TECH was introduced to the Manske Family, creating a relationship that would allow us to further increase our presence in Downtown Hutch, create cohesiveness for our locations and offer unimaginable opportunities for our TECH Artists and the people we serve. In 2017, the TECH Art Gallery and TECH Administrative Offices opened in the Wiley Building, with a colorful Art Gallery lining the windows of 1st Street for retail customers to see. We also employed two people served by TECH as a morning and afternoon receptionist.
At TECH, when we face challenges, we like to step back and look at them from a global point of view. We constantly were facing challenges with housing needs for the people we serve and as we began researching, we quickly realized that the Hutchinson community was lacking affordable accessible housing options and we wanted to be a part of the solution.
In early 2018, TECH broke ground on The Link of Hutchinson, an affordable accessible housing project that is located at the corner of Sherman and Washington. It didn’t take long for the 29-unit apartment complex to be fully leased, and for the residents who live there to be comfortable in their home. This has been our largest project yet and has fostered independence and self-worth in residents.
As TECH looks to our future, we can’t help but reflect back on our rich history. Just like our founders, we believe individuals with disabilities deserve to live, work, play, and worship in a community of their choice and define happiness in a way that makes sense to them. We are committed to offering the supports and services to those we serve so that they may live a life that is meaningful to them.
Everyone deserves the chance to live a full life and reach out for the dreams that inspire them. We look forward to the bright future of TECH, and the people we serve. We are passionate about the work we do, and creating a future that is as rich in successes as our 45 year history!