It all started in 1903 – a donation of 40 acres of land nestled along the Rock River in Watertown, Wisconsin. A year later, the organization that came to be known as Bethesda came to be.
What a wonderful journey it has been these past 117 years. From a rural enclave in the Midwest, and then expanding nationally, we have lived our mission, to enhance the lives of people with disabilities through services that share the good news of Jesus Christ.
And this journey continues. While many may reflect on the Bethesda of the past as constant and unchanging, the truth is we have transformed many times over the years, to better meet the needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Many of you will remember the large campus and facility in Watertown, where we cared for hundreds at a time and thousands over the years. “We were known across the nation as the place Lutherans would send their loved ones who couldn’t care for themselves,” said Dave Sneddon, Interim President and CEO. “But over time, expectations of people with disabilities and their families changed, and Bethesda needed to change as well.”
Like most providers of services to people with disabilities, we began to accept Medicaid funding as a way to fund the cost of providing quality support. Over time, we adopted a group home model that created more opportunity for independence and real connection to communities, and we closed the Watertown residential campus when it could no longer be sustained.
Today, we’re approaching the future with open arms, and bringing new friends into the mission. We continue to embrace our Lutheran family, and cherish our role as a Registered Service Organization of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, but are expanding our circle to include even more people. The potential upside is incredible: We can move from around 2,000 people in homes and traditional services and a small (but fiercely loyal) supporter base to transforming the lives of more than 7 million Americans with disabilities through innovation, embracing all, and a business-minded approach driven by Christian love. What a time of promise for people with disabilities!