To provide residential, employment, support, referral, and advocacy services to individuals with disabilities and people with similar service needs to assist them in exercising their human rights as citizens and contributing members of society.
Our Vision is that each person we serve will live and work in the community and be accepted by his or her neighbors, co-workers, family, friends and acquaintances for his or her individual qualities and contributions.
Marrakech is a diverse nonprofit organization that has been providing person-centered, unique, and cost-effective human services for children and adults with and without disabilities throughout Connecticut since 1971. The services provided and individuals we support are diverse. But, there is a common goal: assist individuals with achieving greater self-sufficiency while they experience the best quality of life possible.
Our caring, inclusive and supportive team serves over 1,000 individuals each year. They are our neighbors with disabilities, our children transitioning to adulthood, our friends battling with addiction, homelessness, and mental illness, and our community members who need to acquire skills to find a job or make ends meet. We do this by providing homes, building skills, supporting families, and helping people reach their potential. The result: stronger communities.
Marrakech, Inc. subscribes to a practice that assures that each person who is referred for services has a highly individualized service plan. Marrakech works diligently with funding sources to use resources effectively. The organization’s community and employment services are accredited by CARF International.
From 1971 to Today
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.
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 really began with a young woman named Valerie Chain. Susan Waisbran and Francie Brody, two Yale undergraduates who later became the founders of Marrakech, Inc., met Valerie through Yale Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the New Haven Regional Center, which 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 intellectual disabilities were, and how they would thrive in a community-based halfway house. At the time, there were no halfway houses in Connecticut. The New Haven Regional Center had been trying to begin a group home for five years, however administrative problems and a lack of funds thwarted their attempts. But the movement away from institutionalization had already taken hold philosophically.
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. The 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.
“Dr. Sarason proved to be our staunchest ally and yet our most critical observer,” said Susan. “He visited the Marrakech 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. started receiving funding by the State Department of Social Services and the Department of Developmental Disabilities (formerly 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.
Marrakech, Inc. continued its focus primarily as a residential organization during the ’80’s although it soon began to develop employment and community programs for people with developmental disabilities. The Work Services program, funded by the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS), started in 1988 to assist people with psychiatric disabilities in their employment efforts. This service was expanded to the Stanford area in 2005. In 1992, Marrakech became part of a collaborative effort funded by DMHAS to provide outreach services to people who are homeless and in need of clinical mental health treatment. Also in the 90’s, the organization opened day and employment centers in New Milford and Cheshire to offer community experience and employment services complementing the New Haven area programs as well as developed our Academy for Human Service
Training program, which would eventually expand to three locations in the state and training over 1,000 participants to date.
In 2001, as part of the Urban Initiative project, Marrakech, along with Easter Seals Goodwill Industries of New Haven and APT Foundation, opened the Taking Initiative Center (TIC). The TIC is a drop-in center for people who are homeless or are at risk of being homeless and who are currently using substances (or who are pre-contemplative to recovery services).
During 2003, Marrakech continued to focus on furthering its work with individuals with autism in its specialized day programs. In 2004, Marrakech was awarded a contact with the Housing Authority of the City of New Haven (HANH) to provide case management services to residents of the Quinnipiac Terrace housing project while it was being revitalized under a HOPE VI federal grant. Because Marrakech was successful in meeting the outcomes desired by the HANH, we were awarded the Family Enrichment Program contract in early 2010 to provide case management and training services to residents of Monterey Place and Edith B. Johnson housing projects.
In early 2005, Marrakech began providing case management services through the Department of Children and Families (DCF) Community Housing and Assistance Program (CHAP) to youth transitioning from foster care to their own apartments for the first time. In September of 2006, Marrakech was awarded another contract with DMHAS to provide a transitional living program for young adults aged 18-23, most of who are aging out of DCF’s therapeutic residential services and into DMHAS adult services. Marrakech works closely with Connecticut Mental Health Center (the clinical team) and Yale Behavioral Health’s vocational team to provide a round the clock, comprehensive independent living program for these young adults. In October 2006, Marrakech opened its first DCF-funded Work to Learn Center in New Haven for youth ages 14-21 transitioning from the foster care system. The Work to Learn Center provides vocational training, life skills development, financial literacy, recreation and basic education support to youth as they prepare to go off to college and adulthood. Marrakech opened a second DCF Work to Learn Center in Waterbury in 2008.
Marrakech continues to grow today. In 2017, the organization partnered with Milestones Behavioral Services, Inc. (formerly Connecticut Center for Child Development) to open a 24/7 residential home for children with Autism and other development disabilities who are under 21 years of age. The home provides 24-hour on-site residential staffing to 3 children attending the Milestones school program. The home is licensed by the Department of Children and Families and funded by the child’s LEA/School District.
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.
Today, presence and participation in the community is measured by the existence of a relationship between the people we support 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.