History Note: Innovative service provider Lifetrack founded to meet unique needs

The July 1 merger of Lutheran Social Services and St. Paul-based Lifetrack makes another transition in Minnesota disability services history.

Lifetrack got its start in 1948 as the St. Paul Rehabilitation Center (SPRC). The center opened its doors to clients with two distinct sets of needs in those times. One group was people disabled by their service in World War II. The others were affected by the polio epidemic and its disabling effects.

Both groups needed community-based services, outside of hospital settings. The St. Paul Junior League was among the groups involved in the SPRC’s launch.

SPRC got its start in the Seven Corners neighborhood of St. Paul. The programs the old Wilder Public Baths building. Part of that structure dated from 1912.

Programs grew quickly to meet community needs. In 1949 SPRC started a therapeutic preschool to address the cognitive and emotional needs of children receiving therapy. That led to rapid growth during the 1950s, as SPRC developed a therapeutic child development system. This was a need not being met by the public school system.

The nonprofit also started vocational programs. Into the 1960s, SPRC expanded its employment services to people with disabilities. One big step was in 1963 with the opening of Packing First. This was a production facility to provide a unique source of employment for people with significant development disabilities. The jobs program eventually expanded to the city’s West Side. That program in 1995 merged with KOPE, Keep Older People Employed.

SPRC in the 1960s also launched an employment services program for welfare recipients referred by Ramsey County.

Services continued to expand in the 1970s, with more offerings for people with hearing disabilities. Over time SPRC would further diversify its services, to include everyone from very young children to the elderly. The nonprofit worked with an array of other east metro agencies, helping people with therapies, living skills and work.

A big change came during the 1980s. Minnesota mandated that public schools provide therapeutic services to children with disabilities. SPRC responded by transforming its longtime preschool into Families Together, an early intervention program to support highly stressed, abused or neglected children living in poverty.

That was also the decade when SPRC expanded services to meet the needs of the homeless, immigrants and refugees. Services for people living with mental illness were also added.

Another big change came in 1991, when SPRC moved to a university Avenue building in the Frogtown neighborhood. The building, which originally was an auto dealership, had been vacant for more than a year when SPRC moved in. The nonprofit quickly became active in the community, even buying a problem bar and turning its building into a satellite facility.

By this time SPRC had become the largest east metro area private provider of employment services to people with disabilities or other challenges. It became a site for the Minnesota Family Investment Program.

SPRC became Lifetrack Resources, Inc. in 2000, launching statewide services for families of children diagnosed as deaf or hard of hearing, as well as home visiting services.

Lifetrack’s acquisition of the Working Family Resource Center in 2010 provided the change to meld  complementary services and resources in the community through its Life Balance Solutions program, which gave families access to a greater spectrum of services.

This history came from Lifetrack and Access Press staff research.

The History Note is a monthly column produced in cooperation with the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. Past History Notes and other disability history may be found at www.mnddc.org