Babcock Center, Inc. is recognized for its advocacy, vision and leadership in providing supports to people with lifelong disabilities. Throughout the agency’s history, Babcock Center has worked alongside the SC Department of Disabilities and Special Needs (DDSN), other state, federal and local agencies, and families to enhance the quality of life of people with disabilities.

Babcock Center History

duffyThe vision for Babcock Center began in 1967 at the grassroots level when its founder, Mary L. Duffie, was asked to provide daycare to three children with intellectual disabilities in the basement of a local church. At that time, there were few options for children with lifelong disabilities. Families could send their child to one of the state’s three overcrowded institutions or keep them at home. Because public schools and private daycare programs did not accept children with disabilities, Mrs. Duffie provided many families with new hope for the future.

As parents in the greater Columbia area learned of Mrs. Duffie’s efforts, the small daycare center grew rapidly and began to serve adults as well as children. The South Carolina Department of Mental Retardation had just been formed, and this agency began working to resolve overcrowding and long waiting lists at the state’s institutions. It also began working to develop community services for people with mental retardation. In 1969, Mrs. Duffie’s “Wee Care Center” moved into the former Waverly Sanitarium. This move was made possible by Mr. Arthur St. Julian Simons II, grandson of Dr. James Woods Babcock.

In 1970, Babcock Center was incorporated with support from families of people with disabilities, educators, health care and business leaders, local government representatives, civic organizations and community volunteers. The new nonprofit organization was created to provide comprehensive services for people with intellectual disabilities in the greater Columbia area – offering an alternative to institutional care.

During the past 25 years, Babcock Center has made the following contributions to South Carolina, the greater Columbia community, people with disabilities and their families:

In 1971, Mrs. Duffie signed a contract with the SC Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, formerly known as the Department of Mental Retardation, and Babcock Center became the first private community organization to receive funding from this agency.

In the early 1970s, Mrs. Duffie discovered a married couple with disabilities living in a chicken coop. She secured housing for them and this event would influence the work of Babcock Center for many years.

Mrs. Duffie immediately began working to meet housing needs of people with disabilities who were homeless or could no longer remain with their natural families. Babcock Center launched South Carolina’s first community residential services for adults with intellectual disabilities.

Babcock Center continued to pioneer community residential programs to prevent homelessness or institutionalization of people with mental retardation. In the late 1970s, the agency obtained funding to construct smaller, more home-like residences in local neighborhoods.

Babcock Center also led statewide efforts to seek employment for adults with disabilities. The agency’s professionals convinced local business leaders that people with lifelong disabilities could become valuable employees with proper training and support.

Today, nearly 5,000 adults with disabilities throughout South Carolina receive vocational training on a daily basis. Over 800 adults with autism, cognitive disabilities, head injuries, spinal cord injuries or related disabilities are employed in the marketplace and earn competitive wages. Babcock Center is the largest private provider of community services for people with severe lifelong disabilities in South Carolina.

Mrs. Duffie was the primary founder of the SC Human Service Providers’ Association. Today, this organization provides support to agencies and professionals who serve people with autism, intellectual disabilities, head injuries, spinal cord injuries or related disabilities. Throughout Babcock Center’s history, its professionals continued to first consider the wishes, choices and preferences of people with disabilities and their families.

Babcock Center established a Family Observation Committee to ensure quality standards of support and to make recommendations from a family perspective. This committee served as a role model for local family advisory councils throughout South Carolina and other states.

In 1975, the Richland/Lexington Mental Retardation Board – the forerunner of the Richland/Lexington Disabilities and Special Needs Board – was formed to serve as the single planning and service coordination point for families of people with disabilities in the greater Columbia area.

In 1988, Babcock Center Foundation was established to support Babcock Center through a variety of programs, including volunteer placements and fund-raising events. The foundation also sponsors regular meetings and special events for families who receive services from Babcock Center and works to meet needs of people with disabilities if no other funding source is available.

In 1991, Mrs. Duffie retired as President/CEO of Babcock Center, Inc., and Executive Director of the Richland/Lexington Mental Retardation Board. She began serving as Executive Director of Babcock Center Foundation on a full-time basis. Robert L. Bartles became President/CEO of Babcock Center and the agency continued to make progress in improving vocational and residential services for people with intellectual disabilities.

In 1993, a new agency – the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs (SCDDSN) – was formed to give people with lifelong disabilities a voice at the highest level of state government. One year later, Risley E. Linder Sr. became President /CEO of Babcock Center.

The agency broadened its mission to provide services to people with autism, head injuries, spinal cord injuries and similar disabilities, intellectual disabilities and related disabilities.

Babcock Center also shifted its priorities to focus greater effort in areas of prevention and family support and to provide home-like alternatives when family care was not possible.

In keeping with its broader mission, Babcock Center became the first nonprofit community organization in South Carolina to serve people with severe head injuries or spinal cord injuries through  a contract with DDSN.

Babcock Center also opened Phoenix Center, a transitional center for adults with severe head injuries and launched supported housing efforts for adults with spinal cord injuries.

In February, 2002 Risley E. Linder resigned as President/CEO of Babcock Center. Dr. James Christian was named as the Interim Executive Director by the Babcock Center Board of Directors. In June of 2002, Dr. Judy Johnson was appointed Executive Director and Mr. Gene Marlow was appointed Deputy Executive Director. Both brought with them extensive experience in the field of disabilities.

Summary of Progress

Today, led by President & CEO Dr. Judy Johnson and Deputy Executive Director Donna Hall, Babcock Center offers great expectations and bright futures to over 800 citizens with lifelong disabilities. People with disabilities have the opportunity to advocate on their own behalf, to make choices about where to live, work and participate in leisure and other activities that contribute to their well-being and personal satisfaction. They have the right to learn the skills and receive the supports necessary to participate as valued members of our community. They are neighbors and are fully included in activities with individuals who do not have disabilities.

Dr. James Woods Babcock

Dr. James Woods Babcock was born in Chester, SC in 1856. After earning a medical degree from Harvard University, Dr. Babcock served as assistant physician at McLean Asylum in Somerville, MA.

In 1891, South Carolina’s Governor, Benjamin R. Tillman, appointed him Superintendent of the SC Lunatic Asylum. Through Dr. Babcock’s leadership, the state hospital established the first training school for nurses south of Maryland.

During his career, Dr. Babcock made many important contributions to medical science. He was responsible for the identification of Pellagra in the United States. Dr. Babcock was also the first physician to call attention to the enormous death rate from tuberculosis among patients in institutions for people with mental illness. He wrote many books and papers about medical services.

After leaving his post at the State Hospital in 1914, Dr. Babcock established and operated the Waverly Sanitarium in Columbia. Waverly performed a needed function by relieving some of the patient load from the State Hospital and served as a place where people with acute psychoses could find haven for short periods. From 1915 until his death in 1922, he also served as professor of mental diseases at the SC Medical College in Charleston.

Babcock Center, Inc. became a comprehensive service organization to meet the many needs of people with disabilities in the former facilities of Dr. Babcock’s Waverly Sanitarium. While this building has been demolished, the enthusiasm and commitment which characterized Babcock Center’s early efforts continues to be a driving force.