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 millions of people, for the better, for… ever.


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. The effort was prompted by the deinstitutionalization lawsuit of Halderman v. Pennhurst and, as a result, people with intellectual/developmental disabilities 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.

CLA had the wisdom to think differently.

Right here in Colorado, Community Living Alternatives was at the forefront of this crusade. Prior to this campaign, common wisdom among the professional community led to the distorted 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 disabilities 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 individuals 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 individuals back into typical community living.

At the same time, people in Michigan began using a residential model they called a “host home” in which individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities 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 intellectual/developmental disabilities were told by doctors and other professionals to give up their children at birth. Many professionals working with individuals with disabilities 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 individuals in Arapahoe, Adams, Jefferson and Denver counties. By the end of 1981, the agency was serving 35 individuals 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). 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 individuals to find employment in neighborhood jobs rather than working in sheltered workshops.

During that same year, CLA provided services to a maximum number of 105 individuals 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 individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities had, in July of 1991, CLA reduced the number of individuals served. We felt it was important to get back to our roots, step up our quality and provide more personalized services to the individuals 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 individuals who receive services from us. Some of these distinctive programs include 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 individuals 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 continue to try new projects to increase and expand the services we offer and the opportunities for those we serve.

The day program department continues to evolve while providing excellent employment opportunities. It has also expanded its services by providing supported community connection services and day habilitation activities services.

Our person-centered focus is to support each individual through personal and career exploration. Once goals are discovered, CLA is committed to expanding its array of services to meet individual goals. Our commitment is to continue developing unique, progressive programs that address individual needs.

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