In the early 1950s, Jane McCormick, a mother of a young son born with Down syndrome, recognized the pressing need for structured programs to support children with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD). Teaming up with Pat and Theresa Greathouse, alongside other concerned parents, McCormick spearheaded the establishment of Echo School, initially named Every Child Hope and Opportunity, in 1953. Echo School emerged as a crucial alternative to institutional care for children with disabilities, thriving thanks to robust community support and the generosity of United Auto Worker (UAW) Region 4 members, whose contributions were pivotal to its success.

By 1966, the original cohort of children had reached adulthood, requiring avenues for purposeful and meaningful lives. Thus, Echo School transitioned into Ottawa Friendship House, broadening its scope to embrace inclusion, social integration, and the enrichment of the lives of adults with IDD. This evolution stood as a testament to the enduring legacy of advocacy and solidarity championed by UAW’s Region 4 and families like the Greathouses.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Ottawa Friendship House relocated to its present location just south of Ottawa, constructing its initial residential homes for semi-independent living. Among the first residents was Bob, one of the inaugural students at Echo School, who also engaged in Friendship House’s sheltered employment program.

Over the years, Friendship House has expanded its services significantly, establishing Community Integrated Living Arrangements (CILAs), Intermittent Community Integrated Living Arrangements (ICILAs), supportive day programming, and a Community Employment initiative. Notably, the sheltered employment program has transitioned into a professional work center, ensuring that adults with IDD receive a living wage and are no longer dependent on piece-rate positions. These advancements are the fruits of collaborative efforts among families, UAW Region 4, and the broader community, driving Friendship House’s mission forward and enabling individuals with IDD to realize their full potential.

Today, Ottawa Friendship House stands as a beacon of collective action and solidarity, serving 100 individuals from Ottawa and neighboring communities. The enduring legacy of Jane McCormick, UAW Region 4, and the journey from Echo School to Ottawa Friendship House underscores the profound impact of advocacy, compassion, and community support in uplifting the rights and dignity of over 100 individuals with IDD in Ottawa, Illinois, and its surrounding areas.


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A Letter from Executive Director Tony Barrett

“We’re not selling anything, but we want people to learn about us, learn to be a part of us – to invest in us.”

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