Marrakech - The History
It began with a song and a promise, as the Age of Aquarius ushered in a new decade of the 1970's. The song talked about a journey and a vision.
"Looking at the world through the sunset in your eyes.
Sweeping cobwebs from the edges of my mind,
Had to get away to see what we could find.
Hope the days that lie ahead Bring us back to where they've led.
Listen not to what's been said to you.
Don't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express?"
©1969 Siquomb Music, Inc.
Crosby, Stills & Nash
Marrakech, Inc. began, as did the 1970's, with a flight of fancy, a dream and a plan. It was a crusade to prove a point, the brainchild of two young Yale undergraduates. Susan Waisbren and Francie Brody were the founders of Marrakech, Inc. But Marrakech began even before the two decided that New Haven needed a halfway house for young women with retardation and even before they had crystallized their belief that any individual with retardation who had a desire to live in the community also had the right to. It began even before they developed the concept of a halfway house or transitional group home that could provide the necessary environment to let that happen.
It really began with a young woman named Valerie Chain. Susan had met Valerie through Yale Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the New Haven Regional Center that has long since closed. Susan and Francie came to know Valerie's friends as well. They soon realized how capable these young New Haven women with mild mental retardation were, and how they would thrive in a halfway house. There were no halfway houses in Connecticut then. The New Haven Regional Center had been trying to begin a group home for five years. Administrative problems and a lack of funds thwarted their attempts. But the movement away from institutionalization had already taken hold, philosophically. And if Marrakech has come to represent a journey, the journey back to the community had already begun.
Susan and Francie were young, idealistic and naive. But they were unencumbered by any foreknowledge of the frustration and bureaucracy they would be facing. They thought it was simple: New Haven needed a halfway house and they would start one. With the guidance of the Regional Center staff and Dr. Seymour Sarason of the Yale Psycho-Educational Clinic, they did just that. Marrakech House opened as a summer pilot program on June 20, 1971, after three months of careful preparation. Eight young women, including Valerie, spent the summer in a sublet, supervised apartment on Crown Street.