Throughout history there have been pivotal moments in time, where a slender thread of an idea gestates, grows, and then takes hold; where the actions of a few progressive thinkers have the opportunity to cultivate a movement that changes the world for many people in the future, for the better, forever.


Starting in the 1970s, a nationwide movement began by implementing community-based services in place of often dangerous and discriminatory institutions for people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD). The effort was prompted by the deinstitutionalization lawsuit of Halderman v. Pennhurst and, as a result, people with I/DD were reintegrated into society and the population of large state-run institutions was dramatically reduced from nearly 200,000 in 1967 to below 40,000 in 2008. In place of those institutions, smaller settings and systems to support community living were built across the country.

Community Living Alternatives, Inc. (CLA) had the wisdom to think differently.

Right here in Colorado, CLA was at the forefront of this crusade. Prior to this campaign, common wisdom among the professional community led to the practice that it was best to place people in institutionalized situations; effectively shutting them off from the rest of society. In these settings, there was little hope for living a fulfilling, productive life.

CLA, along with several other agencies and organizations in the disability community, had the wisdom to think differently.

As the Association of Retarded Citizens of Denver (ARC) watched this strong push for deinstitutionalization, they realized that many of the people who were moving into the community had never lived with their families, or had ever experienced family life. While the transition from large institutions to group homes was a positive action, it wasn’t fully integrating people back into typical community living.

At the same time, people in Michigan began using a residential model they called a “host home” in which people with I/DD moved in with families to get their support needs met while living in a family environment. Using these basic principles, ARC’s Board of Directors provided funds for the start of Colorado’s first host homes in 1979.

Implementing the host home model was a controversial venture. For years, parents of children with I/DD were told by doctors and other professionals to give up their children at birth. Many professionals working with people with I/DD thought these children would never be able to live and grow in community settings or contribute to society. They mistakenly believed, and told families, it was best to put these children in institutions where they could be cared for and not be a burden on families and society.

When ARC presented the idea of putting people back in the community, into family settings, it went against everything families had been hearing from professionals for years. It promoted guilt in family members and made professionals look incompetent. In the midst of this controversy, ARC moved forward with their vision.

Rapid Expansion

In January of 1981, Family Living Project, Inc. (FLP) became its own entity apart from ARC. The residential services were extended to people in Arapahoe, Adams, Jefferson and Denver counties. By the end of 1981, the agency was serving 35 people in host homes. After seven years and with plans for continued expansion, in April of 1986, FLP changed its name to Community Living Alternatives, Inc. (CLA) to better reflect the permanency and purpose of the agency. In January of 1987, an apartment program called “Alternatives in Supported Living” was started to further enhance CLA’s focus on living alternatives.

Then, in April of 1988, the “Community Employment Alternatives’” program began to assist people to find employment in neighborhood jobs rather than working in sheltered workshops.

During that same year, CLA provided services to 105 people in the residential program, 12 in the employment program, and four in a retirement program.

Quality vs. Quantity

In an effort to improve individual services by meeting the broad variety of needs that people with I/DD had, in July of 1991, CLA reduced the number of people served. We felt it was important to get back to our roots, step up our quality and provide more personalized services to the people we serve. Since that time, CLA has made a conscious decision to focus on quality of services rather than the quantity of people served.

Progressive Programming

Over the years, CLA has developed several unique programs that focus on the talents and abilities of the people who receive services from us. One of these distinctive programs was Positive Images, a public television show which was produced by and about people with disabilities.

CLA also introduced an art program, Artists in Bloom, which featured the artistic talents of the people receiving services from the agency through exhibits and entrepreneurial ventures. We expanded on that idea by collaborating with other agencies and opening an art gallery called Artists Unlimited.

We have continued to support community and relationships within CLA by hosting annual award ceremonies and holiday parties.  In addition, we have gathered as small groups and explored the community through our Friday Afternoon Club.

The day program department expanded its services by opening CLASS (Community Living Alternatives’ Specialized Services) which provides supported community connection and day habilitation activities services.  CLASS is unique in providing learning opportunities in gardening, cooking, computer skills, and more.

Our person-centered focus is to support each person to explore what their dreams and goals are.  Once this is discovered, CLA is committed to expanding its array of services to meet their personal goals.  Our commitment is to continue to develop unique, progressive supports that address individual needs, optimize outcomes, and deliver meaningful and fulfilling lives. 

This person-centered promise is a core component of our strong vision for the community’s future.