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Our History


Dr. Jean Edwards and a group of families, whose loved ones were shut out of public schools because of their disabilities, founded Edwards Center in 1972 to meet their long-awaited needs. Dr. Jean Edwards has dedicated the majority of her life to promoting independence in the lives of adults with developmental disabilities.

As a child, Jean’s friend and neighbor David, who had Down syndrome, was unable to attend school or participate in many of the same programs that his twin brother, who did not have Down syndrome, enjoyed. Even at a young age, Jean knew that this was not right.

Photo of Founder, Jean Edwards With Her Friend David

Where We Came From

Jean & Dennis.JPG
Jean & K.G. Enjoying a Meal
Jean and Jodi P on Monte Carlo Night

A Legacy of Commitment

Jean set out to make a difference by attending the University of Oregon, where she studied Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling. While continuing her education at Columbia University, Jean received the opportunity to travel to Europe and study a new philosophy called “normalization” – a concept that included the integration of people with developmental disabilities into their communities. While abroad, she made the initial plan of what would eventually become Edwards Center: a place where people with developmental disabilities could live, work and engage in recreational activities, helping them to live a more independent and fulfilling life.

Dr. Edwards started small - with just six participants from Fairview Training Center and their families. This start was the beginning of turning her dream into a reality.

In addition to founding Edwards Center in 1972, Jean is a Professor Emerita at Portland State University, where she taught for more than 30 years. She has authored more than 25 publications and has been recognized for her dedication to the field with honors such as The Burlington Northern Award, Sylvia Mann Capper Award, Medora Bass Award, Media Award from National Down Syndrome Congress, Woman of Accomplishment Portland, and more.

Jean is still extremely active with Edwards Center. She remains on the board of directors, is actively involved in philanthropy and communications, and regularly volunteers more than 150 hours per month to the organization. It is not uncommon to see her delivering new furniture to a group home, dropping by one of the Community Centers or in her office at Arctic.

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