This Land is Our Land!: The Center Secures West Dallas Campus

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With funds raised through last year’s Pursuit for those with disABILITIES capital campaign, The Center has paid off the 6.72 acres that house our West Dallas Campus. This allows us to continue serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) here in Houston.

The ownership of and control over this property has already had a tangible impact on The Center’s financial situation. As an immediate consequence of the purchase, The Center has been relieved of our large yearly interest payments the the City of Houston, allowing us the means to focus on better serving our clients.

A little piece of History

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Clients gather for a meal at the cafeteria on The Center’s West Dallas campus, circa 1970.

The Center has resided on its West Dallas campus since 1963 when a city initiative aimed at nurturing the local nonprofit sector provided use of the land at a nominal fee. This contract let The Center emerge as a pioneer of choice for those with I/DD and their families in a time when institutionalization was still the norm.

In 2002, a dispute with the City of Houston that questioned the validity of the land contract threatened The Center’s future. Supporters responded with 2007’s Save The Center campaign, led by board member David Baldwin. The campaign enlisted the help of attorneys from Baker Botts LLP, who donated their time to work with the city on a solution.

This tremendously successful effort ultimately afforded The Center the opportunity to purchase the land. The victory was not only ours, but the precedent it set meant that nonprofits across the city whose futures had been jeopardized by the city’s newly enforced policies now had the prospect of a fresh start.

Finding our Pursuit

PURSUITcircle GREENonLGREEN SmallestSince the resolution of the land dispute, The Center has worked to raise the funds to pay in full. This was finally made possible by Pursuit for those with disABILITIES, a 3,500-mile cross-country bike ride in the summer of 2016 and the biggest capital campaign in The Center’s history. The campaign, again spearheaded by Baldwin, aimed to raise funds and awareness for The Center, as well as to learn and grow opportunities for individuals with I/DD nationwide.

More than 300 volunteers, both at home and on the road, contributed to Pursuit’s success. To date, Pursuit has raised over $13.2 million. (Update: as of May 31, 2017, Pursuit has reached is $13.5 million stretch goal.)

Looking to the Future

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Clients, staff, and supporters celebrate “The Center Day” on August 9th, 2016, at Houston City Hall.

The Center’s full ownership of the West Dallas property has the potential to transform our long-term outlook. It will provide access to an estimated $30 million of land equity value and the flexibility to sell, partition, expand, or allow for the possibility of a joint venture. Securing the land and accessing its value unlocks a great many opportunities and, ultimately, will allow us to expand and improve the programs we offer, particularly growing community-based employment opportunities for our clients.

To say that the past year has been a watershed moment for The Center would be an understatement. Pursuit showed us what can be accomplished when people from all walks of life pull together for a common goal and that it is imperative to do so. Society is changing, too. Use of the detogatory and often hurtful “r-word” is now widely regarded as unacceptable. Major companies like Google and Microsoft are establishing programs to increase hiring of employees with disabilities, while entrepreneurs with I/DD are being increasingly empowered to go into business for themselves (see Texas’ own Sweet Heat Jam Co. and Blake’s Snow Shack). TV shows like Speechless and the Emmy-award-winning Born This Way have helped shift focus away from limitations of those with I/DD and toward their abilities.

There are many goals that have yet to be achieved and struggles yet to overcome. State funding for I/DD programs in Texas is the lowest in the nation. As it is, only 7% of I/DD caregiving families in our state receive support from an organization like ours. There is more work to be done, but the future is looking brighter than ever.