Marrakech, Inc. is a private, nonprofit corporation serving over 1,300 men, women, and children who face mental, economic, physical, and psychiatric barriers, through a range of programs designed to meet housing, employment, training, and community participation needs. Supported by a staff of almost 900, Marrakech, Inc. offers case management and advocacy; family support services; highly individualized independent living support services; nineteen state-licensed group homes; employment programs; community programs; and safe, affordable, accessible housing. With programs and services located throughout the state of Connecticut, the focus of the organization has expanded to support people with behavioral health issues; individuals with challenging behaviors; families with complex needs; adults who are considering recovery from addictions; people who are homeless, un-employed, and under-employed; families of low income; and at risk youth and students.
In 1971, the Marrakech pilot was as much of a learning experience for the directors and the community as it was for the young women, some of whom had never washed their own hair, prepared a meal, or taken a bus - basic, normal life experiences. That first summer there were unexpected predicaments and obstacles, as well as moments of profound joy. They formed an advisory board and a parent group, and developed programs to teach the residents the social, vocational, and academic skills vital to managing a household.
"Dr. Sarason proved to be our staunchest ally and yet our most critical observer," said Susan. "He visited the Halfway House, attended meetings with parents, the Board of Directors, and community agencies. He wrote critical letters of support; he listened to our smallest problems, and he helped immeasurably whenever we needed him." Others from Yale and New Haven volunteered in various capacities. "We always relied on volunteers," said Francie. Walter Wagoner of the New Haven Legal Assistance helped them incorporate as a tax-exempt nonprofit corporation. Others helped them develop and deliver programs, apply for grants, and plan for new houses. Yet, she admitted, "I don't think Susan and I had the vision of Marrakech's future. We were very present tense, busy proving it could be done." After that first summer, planning for implementation of Phase II of Marrakech began. Various apartments were rented, beginning in the fall of 1971.
Marrakech, Inc. began to be funded by the State Department of Social Services and the Department of Mental Retardation. Marrakech's first purchased home was on Sherman Avenue. It was sold in 1985 and three other homes were leased. Today, Marrakech operates 20 group homes and supports over 70 people in apartments throughout Connecticut. Marrakech aggressively works to develop alternate living arrangements to group homes and traditional supported living programs. To this end, the organization has established community training models, companion programs, shared living, and family support models. With a daunting community need for safe, affordable housing, Marrakech continues to acquire and modify residential property throughout the state.
Founded as a halfway house, Marrakech, Inc. continued its focus primarily as a residential organization during the '80's although it soon began to develop employment and community programs funded by the Department of Mental Retardation. The Work Services program, funded by the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, started in 1988 to assist people with psychiatric disabilities in their employment efforts. In the 90's, the organization opened centers in New Milford and Cheshire to offer community experience and employment services complementing the New Haven area programs. During 2003, Marrakech continued to focus on furthering its work with individuals with autism in its specialized day programs. The Academy for Human Service Training continues to operate in two sites - Bridgeport, and Waterbury. Almost 800 people have graduated from the Academy to date.
Marrakech continues to be a leader in the provision of employment services to persons with co-occurring disorders (mental illness and substance abuse) who are homeless in greater New Haven. In 2005, Marrakech began to provide supported employment services to individuals with psychiatric disabilities in the Stamford area. This service is an evidence-based model and the employment case managers are integrated on the clinical teams at the DuBois Center, a State-run local mental health authority. Additionally, we are pleased that the model also relies on the promising practice of having peer workers on the team.
One of Marrakech, Inc.'s goals has always been normalization, achieving a level of independence that would allow all people to become more a part of the community. Many years ago Susan said, "Normalization does not mean merely adjusting to society's norms. It means educating the community to expand its definition of 'normal.'" Yet, after the first summer of Marrakech, she added, "We never really wanted normalization. We wanted something better. Too often, normalcy in our society means conformity and compromise. We strove for consciousness, tolerance, and imagination." To Susan's and Francie's goals, Marrakech has remained true.
...living together as a purposeful experience by which everyone gains a deeper understanding of themselves and others...mutual support...a communal spirit of trust and affection...
Today, presence and participation in the community is measured by the existence of a relationship between the people we serve and their neighbors, coworkers, family, friends, and acquaintances. This reflects the values upon which this organization is founded. For those ideals and their simple spirit of doing what needed to be done, Marrakech salutes its founders, Susan Waisbren and Frances Brody and their mentor, Dr. Seymour Sarason.