The foundation of what has become Vocational Guidance Services was laid by Mrs. Oscar Childs when she suggested that her two daughters invite a few of their friends to spend afternoons during the summer at her home on Prospect Avenue. She would read to the girls and they could sew or take turns threading needles. The idea intrigued Mae and Effie Childs and they invited their friends.

One summer afternoon the girls talked about a service club organized by their older sisters called the Rainbow Circle of the King’s Daughters. The group’s focus was on providing a place for sick children to convalesce.  Wishing to emulate their older sisters and with the guidance of Mrs. Childs, they searched for a project of their own. Dr. Kirk Cushing suggested to Mrs. Childs that the young girls might do something to brighten the lives of the bed-bound children in the ward at Lakeside Hospital. The young girls thought that this was a marvelous idea and began to discuss how they could best help.

In the summer of 1890, the Sunbeam Ten of the King’s Daughters held a bazaar to sell the hand-sewn dusters they had made during their reading and sewing hours together. With the proceeds, they decided to buy bedside tables and to make favors for the Lakeside Hospital children.

That was how Sunbeam was born. The Sunbeam Ten later became the Sunbeam Circle. The name was selected because “the rainbow follows the storm and after the rainbow comes the sunbeam.”

Over the next several years the Sunbeam Circle continued its work in support of the children at Lakeside Hospital and in 1900 the Sunbeam Circle established the first kindergarten for children with disabled at Alta House Social Settlement on Murray Hill Road. This pioneering venture was later taken up by the Cleveland Day Nursery and Kindergarten Association.

The young women were faced with a multitude of problems in running the nursery, but financial gifts of families and friends overcame the greatest—that of transporting the children. It was solved by renting a horse-drawn omnibus and securing a skilled driver who was sympathetic and patient with the special needs of the young passengers.

The Sunbeam members, gaining intimate knowledge of the plight of children with disabilities, next moved into the Goodrich Social Settlement House in 1901. There they worked with older children with disabilities who also needed educational facilities adapted to their special needs. The foundation was laid at Goodrich House for the present Sunbeam School, a facility today staffed and supported by the Cleveland Municipal School District.

Sunbeam then opened the School for Crippled Children at 724 Hamilton Avenue. In its report covering the financial operations from 1907 to 1909, it stated that the school “accepts any crippled child irrespective of color, creed or nationality. Two specially-equipped buses carry the children to and from school.”

In 1910, through the efforts of the Cleveland Municipal School District, Sunbeam started the Willson School for Crippled Children. Girls were taught sewing and boys learned the arts of manual training.

The Sunbeam Circle underwrote the expenses for the bus, driver, and livery in addition to teachers’ salaries. The funds came from their bazaars, plus money from friends. As the school grew and the educators were gaining experience in conducting special schools, the Cleveland Municipal School District supplied a principal, two grade school teachers and a kindergarten. The program progressed, and children from all parts of the community required transportation to Willson Street (now East 55th Street). The Sunbeam Circle appealed to many Clevelanders and the response was generous.

In 1911, funds from 460 donors helped provide for three more buses. Seventy children now required two-way transportation from as far away as a two-hour drive both ways. Each omnibus had a Sunbeam volunteer to help the driver load and unload the children. The first floor of Willson School was equipped with ramps for those children on crutches and in wheelchairs.

Because of their commitment to the school it was renamed the Sunbeam School for Crippled Children. The Sunbeam Circle bore the transportation costs of the children until 1913. That same year, the Cleveland Municipal School District took over the complete responsibility of the Sunbeam School and continues to operate it to this day.

In addition to its work with the schools, the Sunbeam Circle operated a summer camp on the grounds of Rainbow Hospital in South Euclid for 24 children with disabilities in 1911.

During these early years, the Sunbeam Circle also experimented with a summer sewing school for girls in the home of Mrs. Edward M. Williams to determine if a permanent sewing shop would be feasible. Mrs. Williams and a few of the other Sunbeam Circle members provided a sewing teacher for the students. Their products – beautifully hand-sewn children’s dresses and other articles – were later sold at Sunbeam Sales.

In 1914, efforts were made to rent rooms where the sewing students could sew and where articles could be sold. On April 1, 1915, Sunbeam Circle rented two rooms in the Quimby block at the northeast corner of Euclid Avenue and East 55th Street (old Willson Street) for $30 a month. One room was the training school and the other was the sales room of the Sunbeam Shop.

At this point, Miss Margaret Wagner* came to the Sunbeam Circle as a volunteer. She was the go-between from the homes where girls were sewing sellable items to the little selling room in the Quimby Building. Thus the “Home Industry project” for the individuals with physical disabilities became a part of the Sunbeam Circle’s activities.

*Miss Wagner was the first social worker employed by the Association for the Crippled and Disabled. She later established the social service department at Cleveland City Hospital, and from 1930 until her retirement in 1959, she was director of Benjamin Rose Institute.

The Sunbeam Shop was the showcase and sales room for the wares made by individuals with disabilities. Sunbeam Sales had become a tradition in the community; the first recorded Sunbeam Sale was held in 1911 and continues to this day, making the current Sunbeam Holiday Boutique one of Cleveland’s longest-running fundraisers. In the early years, members of the Sunbeam Circle and later the Sunbeam Association influenced their relatives and friends to visit and shop at the East 55th Street workshop. In the 1920’s, the Association’s board members and volunteers became more imaginative in displaying the handmade items and attracted larger audiences for the merchandise. In 1926, the big Christmas sale was held at Hotel Statler with Mrs. Gardner Dodge and Mrs. Karl F. Bruch as co-chairs. They were assisted by Mrs. John F. Rust and Mrs. Richard Ziesing, Jr. The same event chairs planned the annual Christmas sale for several years, each time featuring a new name, theme, and decoration.

The Sunbeam Shop was open five days a week to the public the year-round at the East 55th Street location. The distinctiveness of a Sunbeam product was its major feature. Not only were the products well made, but they were original. Hundreds of dedicated volunteers were motivated by firsthand knowledge that the creation of products provided training, skills development, and a sense of dignity and accomplishment to many persons with disabilities.

It was around 1915 that the Sunbeam Circle changed its name to the Sunbeam Association, and in 1916, it gave the principal financial support to the Cleveland Welfare Federation survey of individuals with disabilities. It was the first city-wide census of individuals with disabilities in the county, and perhaps the most comprehensive study of its kind ever made. The goal was to find practical guidelines toward a community plan for the best welfare of individuals with disabilities.

As the result of the survey, the Sunbeam Association was incorporated into the Association for the Crippled and Disabled in 1918. The Association’s scope was broad, and included not only needs of individuals with disabilities, but legislation related to opportunities for individuals with disabilities. The Association recognized its responsibility as taking in all aspects of the lives of individuals with disabilities.

The Association wanted to assure every individual with a disability in Cleveland, whether child or adult, that the best physical condition was attainable, the best education was attainable, and they were competent to undertake the best attainable jobs.

In 1920, the Cleveland Hospital Council conducted a survey and recommended that the Association expand its facilities by adding an Orthopedic Center. This Center would be the focal point of contact for all institutions in the city.

Two years later in 1922, the Orthopedic Center was opened at 2233 East 55th Street. It was a frame house with a brace shop for the manufacture and fitting of braces. The new Center included the town office of Rainbow Hospital, the Cleveland office of the State of Ohio Civilian Rehabilitation Service (State Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation), and headquarters of the Rotary Service to Crippled Children of Cuyahoga County.

The Association for the Crippled and Disabled cooperated with all other agencies working with children with disabilities. It also took leadership and responsibility to see that the needs of individuals with disabilities were met. It included a social service department which began with Sunbeam’s Alia House kindergarten; an occupational therapy department, which was a combination of Sunbeam’s workroom, home industry and occupational shops; and the training school and workroom, an offshoot of Sunbeam sewing classes.

In the occupational shops,  women made children’s dresses, beautifully detailed with smocking, appliqué, and other line work. These garments of distinction became a trademark of the Sunbeam Shop sales.

Men and women with disabilities once forced to remain home were now given occupational opportunities with a variety of benefits: therapeutic value as well as income and social interaction. Toy-making, weaving, woodwork, caning, and a variety of other creative jobs were done by men while women either did machine or hand sewing.

In 1939, the Association for the Crippled and Disabled officially became the Cleveland Rehabilitation Center. And their footprint grew: in addition to the old frame building known as the Bingham House on the corner of East 55th Street and Thackeray Avenue, they raised $175,000 for a new industrial building.

The industrial building brought all of the Association’s projects under one roof. Together it housed physical medicine and consultants, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and group therapy, social service, group and case work, recreation, camp and friendly visitors, industrial rehabilitation and various workshops. Miss Bell Greve was appointed executive secretary of the Association for the Crippled and Disabled in 1933. She brought to the Association vast experience gained both in America and abroad. She launched a program to make the Association better known, but her main goal was to find the right kind of employment for all individuals with disabilities.

Miss Greve’s organizational talents were much in demand during her tenure with the Association which later became famous as the Cleveland Rehabilitation Center. She assisted in the development of the Cuyahoga County relief program. She went to Greece as a representative of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Association after World War II. As an authority in the field of rehabilitation, she left her mark not only in Greece, but in Yugoslavia, Armenia, Czechoslovakia and in Haiti where she designed rehabilitation centers and formulated their programs. Here in Cleveland she stimulated the formation of many professional organizations in the field of rehabilitation. Miss Greve became welfare director of the City of Cleveland in 1953, the first woman to hold a post in the mayor’s cabinet.

During Miss Greve’s administration, the Cleveland Rehabilitation Center was the recipient of many gifts. Perhaps the one with the most appeal to the community was a toy project of the 40 and 8 Society of the American Legion. A small building in the rear of the Center was converted into a Toy House and Hospital where children could leave broken toys to be repaired by the men and women in the occupational therapy departments or those in the treatment shop at the Center. This warm, human project gave work and recreation to many patients.

In 1956 Mrs. Olive Kennedy Banister came on the scene. She had been instrumental in creating the Vocational Guidance Bureau and in 1956 it was merged with the Cleveland Rehabilitation Center to form Vocational Guidance and Rehabilitation Services, or VGRS.

The Vocational Guidance Bureau, which had its actual beginning in 1939 in Children’s Services, came into autonomy in 1949 as a community vocational counseling agency.

As its scope of services broadened, the Vocational Guidance Bureau lacked adequate facilities. At the same time, the Cleveland Rehabilitation Center was in the process of redefining its function in the light of changing community needs.

Each agency had something to offer the other to provide the community with  comprehensive vocational rehabilitation and counseling services. Thus in May 1956, the boards of the two agencies made the decision to merge and form a new agency—Vocational Guidance and Rehabilitation Services (VGRS).

The Board of Trustees first considered relocating the newly formed agency but it was decided to rehabilitate the present building on East 55th Street and to keep the counseling service downtown at 1001 Huron Road for its availability to the entire community.

The Vocational Counseling Center at 1001 Huron Road and the Rehabilitation Center at 2239 East 55th Street had three years of growing and learning as a merged organization when in 1959 a self-study was made by the board, staff, and outside consultants. It took a year but it enabled the agency to structure its role in the community and to identify long-range objectives and physical facilities in relation to community needs.

In 1960, the old Bingham House was torn down to make way for a half-million dollar remodeling and building expansion program. The major contributors for this expansion were the Louis Beaumont Foundation, Inc.; the Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund; the Cleveland Foundation; and the Kresge Foundation together with members of the board, members of the community, and corporations who had been served or inspired by the work of this organization.

VGRS as a merged agency increased its services to individuals with disabilities which now included those with mental, emotional, and social disabilities as well as physical. It served all the agencies in the community which included 65 different public and private agencies in 1964. About half of the people coming to VGRS applied directly, having heard of it through someone else helped by the agency.

VGRS services included vocational and educational counseling; vocational and psychological testing; occupational information; scholarship resources and information; programmed instruction; work information clinics; job readiness clinics; group counseling; an older worker program; employment counseling and selective job placement; medical evaluation; psychiatric and orthopedic consultation; physical therapy; home activities; equipment loans and rental; work evaluation; work adjustment; four workshop programs for training and work experience; skills training; transportation; a homebound sewing program; and clothing and aids for individuals with disabilities.

The Sunbeam Shop at the Rehabilitation Center remained the sales outlet for products made by individuals with disabilities

Dedicated to serving people in new and imaginative ways, the Board of Trustees of Vocational Guidance and Rehabilitation Services developed new and dramatic approaches to serving individuals with disabilities.

“People Renewal” was the inspiring theme of this new concept which was brought together under the Cleveland Rehabilitation Work Center.  “People Renewal” was the community’s dynamic contribution to the national goal of helping people find their greatest potential of self-achievement.

Community services for individuals with disabilities were developed by many agencies in the Cleveland Rehabilitation Work Center facility thus maximizing the use of the limited numbers of available professional personnel and dollars in the rehabilitation field.

VGRS and the “People Renewal” initiative provided individuals with disabilities the best possible opportunities to learn to work, to develop or re-develop skills, and to find ways into the competitive labor market or to become productive at whatever level of productivity they were capable of achieving.

VGRS remained an important community asset, dedicated to its mission and continuing its work serving individuals with disabilities. The agency was innovative and successful in creating new programs and services and continued to be a pioneer in its field. In 1980, VGRS was named “Outstanding Rehabilitation Facility in America” by the National Association of Rehabilitation Facilities. The agency’s Sewing Division, now focused exclusively on production sewing training and work activities for persons with disabilities, began manufacturing clothing for sale in Sears Department Stores. The agency expanded services – establishing “Total Temps” in 1985, the first temporary worker service in the country for individuals with disabilities – and continued to grow its service area by opening its Cleveland West location the same year. In 1986, the agency shortened its name and became Vocational Guidance Services, the VGS of today.

Since the 1980s, the agency’s growth has been extraordinary. In 1988, the Elyria Center was acquired and services expanded into Lorain County. In 1993, VGS collaborated with The Cleveland Sight Center and the Cuyahoga County Board of Commissioners to initiate Northeast Ohio’s only private sector Pathways program with the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission, which extended through 2003.  Also in 1993, VGS’ growth continued as the agency established a facility in Painesville to serve individuals from Ashtabula, Geauga, and Lake Counties.

In 2003, VGS opened its state-of-the-art Training Center on East 55th Street in Cleveland, further expanding its programs and services as well as its capacity to serve. In 2004, the agency added its first Basic Life Skills program in collaboration with the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities, filling a need for services in the community for a population of people who had been typically underserved. That same year, VGS partnered with, and then officially affiliated with Dress for Success Cleveland, a highly successful venture for both organizations that remains in place today. In 2006, VGS opened a full-service facility in Columbus, extending its outreach into Franklin County and beyond. VGS now has facilities on the east and west sides of Cleveland, in Elyria, Painesville, and Columbus, and serves individuals in 26 Ohio counties.

Through the years, the agency’s foundation in sewing has remained. In 1991, VGS received its first federal government sewing contract for U.S. Army women’s dress slacks. Today, VGS is the exclusive provider of the female dress slacks for both officers and enlisted personnel in the U.S. Army.  The agency is also the prime contractor and exclusive provider of dress slacks for the women in the U.S. Navy and is the primary provider of women’s alternate slacks for the U.S. Marines.

In 2015, VGS celebrated its quasquicentennial, or 125th Anniversary, and achieved its world-record 17th consecutive accreditation from CARF International. Founded in 1966 as the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, CARF International is an independent, nonprofit accreditor of health and human services whose mission is to promote the quality, value, and optimal outcomes of services through a consultative accreditation process and continuous improvement services that center on enhancing the lives of persons served.

In 2016, having undergone a comprehensive assessment of its management structure and green cleaning operations by an independent accredited CIMS-GB (Cleaning Industry Management Standard Green Building) assessor, VGS proudly announced its Certification with Honors to the ISSA Cleaning Industry Management Standard Green Building Criteria. CIMS is the first consensus-based management standard that outlines the primary characteristics of a successful, quality cleaning organization. This certification successfully demonstrates VGS’ commitment to the delivery of environmentally preferable services designed to meet customer needs and expectations and its dedication to continuous service delivery improvements.

Today, Vocational Guidance Services serves over 3,500 individuals each year and provides over 778,000 hours of work experience, training, and employment opportunities to individuals with disabilities or other barriers to employment. This equates to over $7.7 million in wages and benefits paid to Ohio residents. Throughout its history, VGS has been a leader in the vocational rehabilitation field and has set and maintained a standard of excellence in programming and service. We take Personal Responsibility In Delivering Excellence, or VGS PRIDE, and are dedicated to our mission of Preparing People with Barriers to Employment for a Brighter Future.