In 1952, a group of parents met to discuss expanding the opportunities available for their adult children with disabilities.  Together, they started a training and education program operated out of a church basement, designed to provide meaningful activities for their loved ones.

Two years later, the group was incorporated as the Lehigh County Association for Retarded Children (LARC) and hired their first executive director.  In 1989, LARC changed its name to Lehigh Valley Association of Rehabilitation Centers. Merging with United Cerebral Palsy of the Lehigh Valley in 1997, LARC and UCPA formed Via of the Lehigh Valley, Inc.

Today, Via of the Lehigh Valley serves more than 1,000 children and adults with disabilities in Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon, Monroe, Pike, Bucks and Berks counties.

1950
  • Pennsylvania public schools do not require education for children with developmental disabilities.
  • Parents of children with developmental disabilities in Philadelphia form a volunteer organization called the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (ARC).  ARC initially organizes educational programs for children in church basements.
1952
  • The Northampton County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children is started by Wesley and Winona Gangewere with the support of thirteen other families, including Fran Falk.  This organization, housed in a storefront on Main Street in Bethlehem, is run by volunteers and is a sheltered workshop.  Northampton County ARC rents a room in the basement of the Moravian Church in Bethlehem and hires a teacher, Mrs. Earl Fry, to teach school age children several nights a week.
  • The Lehigh County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Association of Retarded Children (LARC) is started in Allentown and parents of adult children with disabilities open a daytime activity program.  Elma Major is the association’s first president.  The program provides training and socialization opportunities for their sons and daughters, is staffed by parents and volunteers, and operates in the basement of a church.
  • A door-to-door fundraiser in Allentown is organized by Clara Morrow, a founding member of LARC, and raises more than $10,000 which is used to open the association’s first sheltered workshop on Ridge Avenue in Allentown.
1953
  • Clara Morrow secures funding from the Community Chest (now the United Way) to subsidize LARC.
1954
  • Lehigh County Chapter of the Association for Retarded Children (LARC) is incorporated by Clara Morrow, the first president of the corporation, and 11 other board members.
  • Individuals with disabilities at LARC work in groups of eight to ten people on jobs that include assembling crayon sharpeners.  In addition, a staff person provides speech therapy sessions.
1955
  • United Cerebral Palsy of the Northampton-Monroe (UCP) is incorporated.  The offices are housed in the living room of president, Frank Hahn in Easton, PA.
1962
  • UCP is accepted by the United Fund of Easton (now the United Way) as a partner agency.
1963
  • UCP provides specialized services through the state chapter of UCP’s Home Service Program.  One physical therapist serves the entire state.
1964
  • After much discussion and strong opposition by the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children, the Northampton County ARC merges with the Lehigh County ARC.  Initially, the two organizations file court documents to become the Lehigh Valley Chapter of the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children.  The state association disapproves of this initiative and withdraws the charters from both organizations.  The consolidated organization becomes the Lehigh Valley Association for Retarded Children (LARC).
  • LARC opens a school for children with disabilities in Bethlehem.
1965
  • UCP opens a children’s daycare program in the basement of Messiah Lutheran Church in Bethlehem.
  • UCP is accepted by the Elks Home Service Program to provide in home nursing service.  The nurse had a caseload of 72 clients in Northampton and Monroe counties.
  • UCP starts recreational activities program for adults.
1966
  • Public Education Law grants children with developmental disabilities free education in separate classes or facilities.
  • UCP office opens on William Penn Highway in Easton in a renovated gas station and hires their first executive director.  UCP offers a recreational program one night per week at the Bethlehem Girls Club and a children’s daycare at the Messiah Lutheran Church.
1967
  • Kurtz Brothers Furniture warehouse at 336 West Spruce Street in Bethlehem closes and donates the land and the building to LARC.  The warehouse is used as a sheltered-workshop training center.
  • LARC receives a federal grant to renovate the Kurtz building and the administration building is built next to the workshop training center.  The organization’s Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton programs for adults are consolidated at the Kurtz Training Center.
  • LARC trainees work on different jobs including assembling purse handles, placing pegs on cardboard, packaging plastic silverware and labeling books.  In addition, trainees staff a woodshop where they make shower sandals and toys.  Trainees also run a paint shop where they painted hard hats and do silk screening.
1968
  • UCP hires special education teacher and occupational therapist and opens two classes for children in Parish House and Cathedral Church of Nativity in Bethlehem.
1970
  • UCP is accepted by the Pennsylvania Office of Mental Health/Mental Retardation for funding.
1972
  • Early Intervention program is established as a federal entitlement program for every parent of a child with a developmental delay to receive federal aid.
  • Medicare and Medicaid are established.  These subsidize funding for developmental disability organizations like LARC and UCP.
  • Right to Education is mandated by the state of Pennsylvania.  Northampton CountryIntermediate Unit 20 (IU 20) hires teachers and aides from UCP to teach children ages 5 to 21.
  • IU 20 and Lehigh County Intermediate Unit 21 (IU 21) contract with UCP to lease three rooms, and provide therapy services and transportation.
  • LARC combines all its pre-school training programs into a new Child Development Center at 902 Fourth Avenue next to the Kurtz Training Center.  The building was constructed with a federal grant and community support.  The Child Development Center is the most unique and modern treatment facility of its kind.  The center employs two pediatricians and two psychiatrists who document children’s progress by videotape for parents.
  • UCP is one of 15 agencies nationwide to participate in National Collaborative Research Program for Infants.  UCP starts infant program in the Lehigh Valley in the Neisser Building and Monroe County.
  • UCP receives 4-A funding through Lehigh Valley Childcare to provide services for fifteen children with special needs.
  • UCP starts a training program for college students in education, social work and therapy.
1973
  • State licensing and regulations are required for workshop training facilities.  As part of regulations, LARC trainees work with staff to establish goals to achieve.
  • The U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by Federal agencies, in programs receiving Federal financial assistance, in Federal employment, and in the employment practices of Federal contractors. The standards for determining employment discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act are the same as those used in title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act.[1].  This act spurs the creation the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR).
1974
  • LARC receives funding from the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) to provide vocational rehabilitation services to help people with disabilities prepare for, obtain, or maintain employment.
1975
  • National Public Education Law 94-142 is passed.  This law requires public schools that are federally funded to provide free, appropriate public education to all children who are handicapped.
  • LARC Basketball Classic is started to raise money for LARC and honor high school basketball players in the Lehigh Valley.
  • LARC conducts a capital campaign for the expansion and renovation of the Kurtz Training Center.  12,000 square feet of office space and 14,000 square feet of workshop space is added to the facility, tripling it in size.
1976
  • IU 21 contracts with UCP to provide therapy and transportation services.
1977
  • LARC changes its name to Lehigh Valley Association of Retarded Citizens.
1978
  • UCP opens pre-school class for children with Down Syndrome at request of Department of Public Welfare.
1979
  • LARC celebrates 25 years.
  • LANTA is established to provide transportation for people with disabilities.
  • UCP begins to provide recreational services for in-home clients.
1988
  • UCP introduces Home Based Early Intervention Program to serve children from birth to age three with special needs in the community.
  • UCP opens a Childcare Program on Linden Street in Bethlehem to serve child with and without special needs in the same early education setting.
1989
  • The Supportive Employment program begins at LARC using job placement counselors to help individuals find jobs in the community and provide ongoing coaching and support once employment is attained. LARC provided job training and placement services for at least ten years prior to this government formalization of this service.
  • LARC changes its name to Lehigh Valley Association of Rehabilitation Centers.
1990
  • UCP’s Home Based Early Intervention Program is increased in response to federal mandate to provide services to families in natural environments.
1992
  • LARC celebrates 25 years at the Kurtz Training Center.
1993
  • LARC’s Supported Employment Program is expanded and implements job coaching, situational assessments and community supports models with 17 individuals from the workshop and 17 from county referrals.
1994
  • The LARC Foundation is established.  The purpose of the foundation is to fill the increasing gap between funded services and the cost of providing high quality services and supports based upon each individual’s needs and choice.
1995
  • Merger talks begin between LARC and UCP.
  • Via begins contract with NISH, a national nonprofit agency whose mission is to create employment opportunities for people with significant disabilities by securing federal contracts through the AbilityOne Program for its network of community-based, nonprofit agencies.
1996
  • LARC and UCP announce merger will take place in 1997 with the mission of the  organization to be: provide leadership, support, opportunities and resources for people with disabilities, so they may achieve independence, productivity and full citizenship within the community.
1997
  • LARC and UCP merge to form Via of the Lehigh Valley.
  • The organization doubles in size and service capacity, and is the largest merger of human service agencies in Lehigh Valley history.  Via’s motto is: Via.  You see people.  We see promise.
  • With the merger, Via of the Lehigh Valley receives the second highest allocation of funding from Greater Lehigh Valley United Way, second to the Red Cross.
  • ViaWorks is created to provide a transition vehicle for individuals who are interested in moving from the workshop to community based employment.
1998
  • Via Events, Inc. is created and incorporates the LARC Thrift Shops into the Via Thrift Stores.  Funds raised through thrift store sales and special events like the Via Basketball Classic and Golf are used to support Via of the Lehigh Valley programs for people with disabilities.
  • Via sponsors a Nike PGA Tour event.
1999
  • Via begins Supported Living Program to help individuals live independently in their own accessible apartment or home.
2001
  • Via’s Inclusive Childcare Project is started with funding from the United Way to train area childcare staff on strategies to successfully include children with disabilities in typical childcare settings.  Forty seven childcare staff in centers across the Lehigh Valley are trained in the first year.
2006
  • Via is contracted by Bangor School District to provide transitional support services to students nearing graduation from high school.  Services are primarily focused on employment.  Several school districts follow in the coming years.
  • Via expands Community Employment services to support individuals in Bucks County.
2007
  • Via of the Lehigh Valley celebrates ten years of serving more than 1,000 individuals and families in the Lehigh Valley each year.
  • Via hosts the inaugural Via Lehigh Valley River Relay Marathon.
  • Via launches Corporate Clothing Drive Program to collect clothing for Via Thrift Stores.
2008
  • Via takes over Good Shepherd Thrift Store operations and adds a Nazareth location to Via Thrift operations.
  • Via offers Teen Summer Experience for young adults with disabilities.
  • Under a multi-year partnership, Via brings on a title sponsor for the Marathon and the event becomes the Lehigh Valley Health Network Marathon for Via.
2009
  • Via adds Autism Services for adults with autism funded by a grant from Lehigh County HealthChoices.
  • Via receives a grant from the PA Developmental Disabilities Council to provide training to provider organizations across the state on how to use innovative techniques to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities.
  • Via is recognized as a Beacon of Employment Excellence by the Medicaid Infrastructure Grant for providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
2010
  • Mary Joy Kaiser-Reinartz is hired as the new Executive Director and President of Via.
  • Via expands Teen Experience for young adults with disabilities to include the week of winter break and launches Via Teen Winter Experience.
  • Via Teen Summer Experience participants access extended school year funding through Allentown, Parkland, Northampton, Easton, Bangor, Whitehall and Pleasant Valley School Districts to fund program participation.
2011
  • Via expands Autism Services, initially funded by a grant from Lehigh County HealthChoices, to provide community habilitation with funding from the Pennsylvania Bureau of Autism.
2012
  • Via expands Community Connections to support individuals in Carbon, Monroe and Pike counties.
  • Via expands services to include individuals who receive funding through the OBRA (through the PA Department of Aging), Independence (through the PA Department of Long Term Living) and COMMCARE (for individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury) waivers.  Services include Community Connections, Community Employment and Work Training Services Workshop.
  • Via opens Lehigh Children’s Academy in Lower Macungie Township which provides high quality, nurturing care and education for young children, ages six weeks to six years, and provides before and after school care for school age child.
  • Via launches Pediatric Speech Therapy Services to provide individual treatment programs and evaluations for children through age 18.
2013
  • Via opens the John E. Walson Center at Via which provides educational, social, cultural and wellness activities for adults with disabilities.  Participants in this adult training program spend a portion of their time at our facility in Bethlehem, combined with opportunities to explore the community.
  • Via expands Community Connections to support individuals through the Office of Long Term Living Independence waiver, CommCare waiver and OBRA waiver, all through Medicaid.
  • Via launches Spruce Street brand products.  Individuals in the Work Training Services Workshop make candles, bath soaks and pet blankets for whole sale.  Products are sold in local retailers like Via  Thrift Stores and the Sands Casino Gift Shop.
  • Via expands Community Employment Services to support individuals in Bucks County, and through the PA Bureau of Autism waiver, Northampton County Office of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) and Social Security Plans for Achieving Self Support (PASS).
  • Via establishes an academic university affiliation with Drexel University and the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute to community rehabilitation provider organizations on providing customized employment services for the job seekers that they serve.
  • The Via Marathon launched a new standalone website for the race.  The Via All-Star Basketball Classic moved its banquet to the Sands Event Center in Bethlehem and hosted the inaugural Lehigh Valley Basketball Hall of Fame Basketball Clinic.
  • The Via Foundation established gifting societies to recognize donors including the Clara Morrow Society and Via Legacy Society for planned giving gifts.
2014
  •  Via expands Community Employment Services to support individuals in Monroe County through the Office of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS).

 

2015
  • Via expands Behavioral Support Services to provide services through the Consolidated and P/FDS Waivers.
  • Via launches a Small Group Employment site at Cigars International. Twenty individuals served by Via work at the Cigars International factory in Bethlehem with opportunities for 15 more jobs to be filled.  Small Group Employment is a perfect match for those preparing for employment in the community, as it provides a chance to work while developing skills, natural supports and opportunities for competitive employment. Job coaches provide supervision and mentoring.
  • Via expands Autism Services to provide services for individuals in Schuylkill County.
  • Creative Expressions and Via collaborated with the Allentown Art Museum and artist Jill Odegaard on Woven Welcome, a community based art project that uses the woven rug as a statement of the inter-connectedness of individuals as they interact and create a new sense of community based on the context of the project.  Creative Expressions created several textile rugs and provide more than 100 community organizations with fabric to use in their own rugs.  The collective project was presented as a display in the Allentown Art Museum.

 

2016
  • Via of the Lehigh Valley serves approximately 700 participants per month, up from 400 participants per month in 2010.
  •  Via received a $1,000,000 grant from the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation to launch the Via Student Work Experience, a service that places high school students in nine-week long paid internships that prepare them for competitive employment after graduation.
  •  Via receives a $10,000 grant from the Verna O. Canova Foundation to help fund the Reading Together at Home program. 
  • Via’s Community Employment Services became a contracted provider of Pre-Employment Transition Services (P.E.T.S.) to youth.  P.E.T.S. will allow Via to enhance and grow its school district services by offering in-class work-readiness training along with 90 hours of on-the-job training coaching services per year.
  • Via is approved by the Bureau of Autism Services to provide Systematic Skill Building, the newest service under the Adult Autism Waiver.  This service is a research-based method for teaching skills using applied behavioral analysis.
  • Via’s Children’s Services (Early Intervention and Reading Together at Home) are now based out of Lehigh Children’s Academy. 

 

2017
  • Via is approved is approved by the Bureau of Autism Services to provide Systematic Skill Building, the newest service under the Adult Autism Waiver. This service is a research-based method for teaching skills using applied behavioral analysis.
  • Significant changes are made to the Office of Developmental Programs (ODP) Consolidated and Person/Family Directed Support (PFDS) waivers. The implementation of both waivers introduces the most significant changes to the ODP system since the waivers were first established in 1983 and 1999, respectively. These changes allow service providers like Via to better meet the needs of their participants, such as: serving people with Autism who do not have an intellectual disability, increase community participation, enhance support to families, expand employment support and promote physical and mental wellness.  Additionally, the Community Participation waiver that was added maximizes opportunities for individuals to have access to the benefits of community living and the opportunity to receive services in the most integrated setting possible.
  • Lehigh Children’s Academy is awarded a STAR 4 status, the highest level awarded by Keystone STARS quality rating system. Keystone STARS promotes quality improvement in early learning and development programs and school-age childcare. A Keystone STARS designation informs parents that their children are in a safe, respectful environment in which they are learning new things every day to support their current and future successes in school and in life.
  • The Office of Vocational Rehabilitation renews their grant to continue funding Via Student Work Experience 
2018
  • Via of the Lehigh Valley serves approximately 800 participants per month, up from 700 participants in 2016. Via has 210 full-time and part-time employees.
  • Early Intervention services grow by more than 40%, consistently serving more than 100 children at any one time.
  • A Small Group Employment site opens at the Easton/Phillipsburg YMCA, providing janitorial services. Under the supervision of a job coach, the team works side by side with the Greater Valley YMCA’s employees, becoming a vital part of their workplace culture.
  • Via partners with an online training system, the College of Direct Support Professionals (CDS). This system is endorsed by the PA Office of Developmental Programs and offers hundreds of trainings that are interactive and web based. Via also uses Open Futures online training to supplement trainings offered to staff.
  • Via’s website is relaunched with a new look and updated content.
  • Reading Together at Home serves more than 50 children and their families. The service uses bilingual Reading Coaches to help families learn to read and interact with their young children.
  • Artists in Via’s Creative Expressions program display their work in the Spruce Street facility’s lobby and earn 100% of the profit from any sales.
  • DMSE Sports is contracted for Race Direction and Operations for the Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon. DMSE Sports is a full-service event-management organization, providing a full range of event and race production, management, and consulting services to support events of all sizes. Dave McGillivray and his team at DMSE Sports are responsible for the technical and logistical aspects of more than 30 races annually – including the Boston Marathon.
  • The Office of Vocational Rehabilitation makes substantial changes to Pre-Employment Transition Services (P.E.T.S.) and adult services, which significantly impacts referral numbers. The Office of Vocational Rehabilitation closed the order of selection effective July 2019.  This halted referrals for new adult customers and students who have not previously had any P.E.T.S. services.  In October 2019, the new P.E.T.S. policy took effect, limiting Paid Work experience hours to 40 (had previously been 90 hours) and reducing administration fees from 17.5% to 1.75%.  In response, the Office of Developmental Programs made changes in the way participants can access their waiver funds for employment services.  Consumers with Office of Developmental Programs waivers can now utilize waiver funds for employment services without going through the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation first if they do not have a currently opened case with the office. 
2019
  • Art created by Via’s Creative Expressions adult training service is displayed in the gallery space at St. John’s Church in Easton for two months.
  • Expanded recreation opportunities were available through Via’s Teen Summer Experience, thanks to funds from the OSTC tax credit In addition to more local activities, participants went to Dutch Springs, took a trolley tour at Hershey Chocolate World, and learned about mining life at the No. 9 Mine and Museum.
  • Community Employment Services relocate to a new Via office located at 1020 S. Cedar Crest Boulevard in Allentown.
  • The Office of Vocational Rehabilitation renews grant funding for Via Student Work Experience’s final year ending in September 2019. Over the length of the project, Via served 551 students with disabilities in Work-Based Learning Experiences with 475 students successfully completing their 9-week program.
  • Via is approved by the Office of Developmental Programs to provide Advanced Supported Employment Services and is approved by the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation to provide Discovery Services. These services are enhanced versions of supported employment services that includes discovery, job development and systematic instruction to learn the key tasks and responsibilities of the position and intensive job coaching and supports that lead to job stabilization and retention.
  • Luke’s University Health Network is named title sponsor for the St. Luke’s Via Marathon.
  • Small Group Employment expands, with sites opening at Via Thrift Stores.
  • People served by Community Connections provide an average of 1,000 volunteer hours per month at local non-profit organizations.
  • Under federal law, state vocational rehabilitation programs that do not have sufficient funding or personnel to provide services to everyone who is eligible must set priorities to serve those with the most significant disabilities. The Department of Labor & Industry’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) has been operating under this prioritization, called an order of selection, since March 1, 1994. Pennsylvania expects to receive less federal supplemental funding for the vocational rehabilitation program, and requests for services have outpaced available resources. The state must amend the vocational rehabilitation services plan to ensure continuation of services. As a result, the Pennsylvania OVR temporarily closed the order of selection and created a waiting list for new customers, effective July 1, 2019.In response to this, the Pennsylvania Office of Developmental Programs reevaluated their process for Employment Related Services.   While the OVR Order of Selection remains closed, individuals who have a Consolidated, Person/Family Directed Support Waiver, Community Living Waiver and the Adult Autism Waiver may access certain employment services without being first referred to OVR
  • Lisa Walkiewicz is named Chief Executive Officer and President of the Via Companies.  
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