The Sumter County Disabilities and Special Needs Board (SCDSNB), originally known as the Sumter Developmental Learning Center (SDLC) and then as the Sumter County Mental Retardation Board (SCMRB), has evolved from an idea by a priest and two caring ladies concerned about the needs of several parishioners to an agency with approximately 230 employees, serving over 500 individuals with disabilities and special needs in Sumter County.

The SCDSNB is a political subdivision formed under county ordinance and contracted by the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs (SCDDSN) to provide services to individual with intellectual disabilities, as well as autism. The agency originated in response to requests by parents that programs be established and services be provided for their children with developmental disabilities in Sumter County. St. Jude’s Catholic School responded to those requests by sponsoring the Sumter Developmental Learning Center (SDLC) in 1971. The program began with four employees, six individuals with developmental disabilities and a budget of approximately $30,000. Administrative duties were performed by volunteers and transportation was provided by parents, Father William Atkinson and volunteers.

The program grew when the Sumter County Department of Social Services referred some consumers living in the county who had been in institutions and also living in several nursing homes. The programs were administered by an advisory board associated with the parish. In the beginning, all employees were state employees, but when the first Board of Directors was formed in 1973, the employees were made employees of the Board. This was done at the request of the then South Carolina Department of Mental Retardation. The purpose of the Board was to encourage local participation in the day-to-day operations of SDLC and reduce the involvement of the Department of Mental Retardation. The Board worked to gain support from the local community and to raise local funds.

Originally, the consumers served were of all ages. The passage of Public Law 94-142 in 1975 required that all states provide a “free, appropriate public education” to all school-age children, beginning at age six. Due to this law, children with developmental disabilities from age five to age 21 began attending public school. The passage of Public Law 99-457 extended the rights given under Public Law 94-142 to children ages three through five who have developmental disabilities.

Act 1127 of the 1974 Code of Laws of South Carolina, Section 44-21-810, established the authority for the development of county mental retardation boards.

In April 1977, a county board was established in Sumter. Of the people nominated to serve on this Board, only three were able to do so. The county board system was established to assume responsibility for all money coming into the county for individuals with developmental disabilities. This board system is now established throughout the state. At this same time, there was an Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC) operating in Sumter County. SDLC, ARC and the county board were all trying to recruit members for boards, raise funds, and conduct programs.

In January 1979, the County Commission purchased the old Guignard School from Sumter School District 17 for $90,000 and on February 1, leased the building to SDLC for $1 per year. SDLC signed a lease and assumed responsibility for the care and maintenance of the building, which was occupied in April. Funds for repairing the roof and heating system were requested from and granted by the Department of Mental Retardation.

In 1979, SDLC was the sponsor for an application made to HUD to request funds to build two badly needed intermediate care facilities, under the project name Creative Environments. That application was approved and the residences were constructed in 1983. The facilities were named Atkinson East Community Residence (which houses nine males) and Atkinson West Community Residence (which houses nine females), in honor of Father William Atkinson.  

In 1980, Mr. John Van Patten, SDLC Chairperson, and Mrs. Sue King, County Board Chairperson, were instrumental in merging the two boards into one, named the Sumter County Mental Retardation Board (SCMRB). ARC was inactive at this time and its programs were merged with those of SCMRB.

Thomas Drive Community Residence was built in 1982 with funds provided by the Department of Mental Retardation, who contracted with SCMRB to manage the day-to-day operations of the facility. The facility houses eight females with intellectual/developmental disabilities.

In 1984, because of total reorganization, SCMRB became involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization. An executive director was hired, the staff was reorganized, the Constitution and By-laws were revised, and personnel policies were improved. The board of directors returned to being strictly an advisory board, concentrating on finance and personnel matters, leaving the day-to-day management and care of consumers to the executive director and staff.

Until 1986, there were two separate entities: SDLC operated the Day Programs at the school and SCMRB operated the residential facilities and other programs. In February of that year, the two programs were merged and the private, non-profit corporation formed in 1976 was renamed the Sumter County Mental Retardation Board, Inc.

In July 1992, as part of state government restructuring, the mission of the South Carolina Department of Mental Retardation was expanded to include individuals with autism and head and spinal cord injuries. At that time, the name of the state agency was changed to South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs (SCDDSN). In 1994, the SCMRB became the Sumter County Disabilities and Special Needs Board (SCDSNB).

We have come a long way over the years. Many board members and staff have given much time and effort to ensure that appropriate, adequate services are provided to our consumers. Programs have been developed as needs have been identified and funding has become available.