Celebrating 100th Anniversary of
The Devereux Foundation
Mark your calendars and join us for our 100th anniversary gala at The Westin, Mt. Laurel on April 14, 2012. Details to follow. Every day Devereux New Jersey provides support for more than 450 children and adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities, autism, or emotional and behavioral disorders. Please support this worthy cause by clicking here.
by Cristin Farney
2012 marks 100 years since Miss Devereux accomplished what few women of her time could imagine – as a single, unmarried woman, she launched her own business, a nonprofit which would come to be called The Devereux Foundation, focused on improving the quality of life of people with special needs.
A century later, Miss Devereux’s work continues to inspire the nation, as The Devereux Foundation now serves tens of thousands of individuals each year in 11 states. In New Jersey, the pulse of the organization beats from West Deptford, where the administrative headquarters of Devereux New Jersey are located.
Born on February 2, 1885, Helena Devereux, typical of many young women of her generation, became a schoolteacher when she grew up. Other than that, there was nothing typical about Helena Devereux.
When Miss Devereux began her teaching career in Philadelphia in 1906 the public school system had no means of providing individualized programs for children with special needs. Rather than helping these students find a path that would enable their growth, such children were repeatedly held back, ostracized by their peers, and written off as hopeless, or sent to mental institutions. Helena Devereux showed unique patience and attention to the special children. Several such children, who had been held back and failed in other classes, began to thrive under Miss Devereux’s care and innovative teaching methods.
From 1906 to 1908, Miss Devereux began using an individual approach to the teaching of the developmentally disabled. Her methods were groundbreaking and she was mocked by many of the “professionals” of the time.
Four short years later the Philadelphia Board of Education offered Miss Devereux a position as the first director of special education in the Philadelphia School System, at a salary of $5,000 per year which, for the time, was a considerable amount.
She turned it down.
“My early wish and expectation was to remain attached as a worker to the public schools of Philadelphia. But I soon learned that while women could hold positions on the lower rungs of the ladder in educational activities, they were not permitted to advance to the higher positions of superintendents of districts,” said Devereux about her choice to turn down the school board’s offer. “Therefore, [my] vision of establishing just a very small school which would permit complete freedom to continue my personal education along lines of value to the work to which my head, heart, and hands had become dedicated since 1908, dominated my mind and ambitions.”
Instead, Miss Devereux began working with children on a private basis. In 1911, a rented summer home in Piermont (now Avalon), New Jersey, would become her first residential setting where new skills could be taught outside of the classroom in a family environment. From 1912 to 1918, Miss Devereux opened her home to various children who became members of her family, each one comprising a key part of a family unit where they were given responsibilities and were taught to achieve a sense of independence and purpose for themselves.
In these early days, state funding for the education of special needs individuals was not available like it is today. So the families of Miss Devereux’s students paid privately for the care of their children.
Ever a smart businesswoman, when her clients could not pay, Miss Devereux gratefully accepted real estate as payment. This is how The Devereux Foundation began to expand outside of the Delaware Valley.
Today, following the philosophy of Helena Devereux, close to 6,000 staff members provide professional and quality care to tens of thousands of individuals annually in 11 states. These children, adolescents and adults, come to Devereux from 43 states and five foreign countries. In a wide range of settings – from home, school, vocational and community to campus-based programs and hospitals – Devereux provides services to individuals of all ages who have emotional, developmental and behavioral needs.
Helena Devereux died at the age of 90 in 1975 after witnessing 60 years of success and growth in her organization. Prior to her departure, she empowered a new leadership team to continue forging new paths, always looking ahead to a bright future for those cared for by the Devereux Foundation. This could only be accomplished by staying true to the unshakable foundations built from the ground up by the drive of one woman and her irrepressible dream.
Cristin Farney, Development Manager
Devereux New Jersey
286 Mantua Grove Road, Blg. #4
West Deptford, NJ 08066
"Like" us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/devereuxnewjersey