Our History

The 1960’s were a dynamic time in our country’s history. It was a period of hope and expansion. The passage of the Community Mental Health Act of 1963 quickened the pace of de-institutionalization and this along with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, lead to an understanding that keeping individuals with serious mental illnesses in long term institutional hospitals was no longer acceptable in our society.

It was in this climate that Stepping Stones was established in 1969 by a dedicated group of mental health advocates who saw the need for housing and residential programs to help adults with serious mental illnesses live in a community setting.

The desire to establish residential services was realized in 1970 when Stepping Stones opened its first halfway house for eight residents. Since that time, the halfway house model has given way to more specialized community based services and we have grown to become northern Illinois’ leading provider of residential psychiatric rehabilitation for adults with serious emotional disturbances and persistent mental illnesses.

Our organization’s commitment to being a part of improving the overall health our community was solidified in 1981 when a permanent administrative facility was secured in downtown Rockford. Since that time we have continued to develop our programs and have expanded our group homes and related supported and supervised living environments to serve hundreds of individuals and their families.

The services providing in our group homes form the foundation of the residential care we provide. In addition to establishing these group homes, we have also made a number of notable developments in services and housing options and now offer a continuum of care to our residents.

In 1993, with the assistance the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Stepping Stones built the first two new housing units totaling thirty apartments for adults with serious mental illnesses in Winnebago County. These supported apartments provide safe and affordable housing that allow us to offer mental health services to individuals who on longer need the structure of a group home.

In 1997 our organization entered into an agreement with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to serve individuals in need of ongoing mental health care who were making their transition to adulthood. Many of these young adults were previously being referred outside their communities or the state by DCFS for residential treatment. We continue to serve these young adults in supervised and supported housing programs.

A long time dream was realized in 2000 when a cooperative program with Rockford Hosing Authority (RHA) allowed us to open River North, a forty bed apartment complex to serve seniors age 50 and older. This is a relaxed setting at the north end of Rockford which is suitable for our residents who are aging. River North has received national recognition as a cooperative venture between a housing authority and a provider of mental health services.

True to our mission Stepping Stones accepted our first referral from Winnebago County’s Mental Health Court’s Therapeutic Intervention Program (TIP) in 2006 to provide the intensive services necessary to interrupt repeat offenders. In 2012 we expanded our focus in this area by developing a community conditional release program.

As you can see, Stepping Stones’ experience in meeting the housing and recovery needs of individuals with serious mental illnesses is considerable. We begin by helping young people make their successful transition to adulthood, continue services that help adults experience the benefits of recovery and maintain care for those participating in our program when they become senior citizens. Through these programs we are able to help the individuals we serve break the cycle of psychiatric hospitalization, homelessness and involvement in the criminal justice system and live as independent and successfully as possible here in our community.

Key Dates in Stepping Stones’ History

  • 1969 – Stepping Stones is founded and incorporated.
  • 1970 – First home is purchased for a halfway house and is later converted to a Group Home.
  • 1971 – Established first semi-independent “Apartment Program”, the first in the area.
  • 1980 – Residential services replace the Halfway House model.
  • 1982 – A group home is opened at 817 Haskell Avenue, the former home of Amos and Mary Woodward. Mr. Woodard was the founder of Woodward Governor. The organization receives the “Heart of Rockford” award for the improvements made to this home.
  • 1983 – Became a partner in founding NAMI Northern Illinois, an affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
  • 1984 – In a joint effort with Singer Center, an additional group home located on Kishwaukee Street is opened to serve ten adults.
  • 1985 – The organization opens a HIP (home improvements program) in a small home on Main Street and this becomes the area’s first foster home placement for persons with mental illness. This program is phased out in 1987.
  • 1987 – The psychosocial rehabilitation model is implemented agency wide.
  • 1990 – Developed an opened a CILA (Community Integrated Living Arrangements) program in cooperation with Janet Wattles Center and Rockford Housing Authority for seventeen residents. The agency’s service capacity reaches 85 persons.
  • 1991 – Services expanded to include psychiatry, nursing, crisis and day treatment services in order to fully participate in Department of Mental Health’s CILA services.
  • 1991 – Mildred Kral Center at 706 N. Main St. in Rockford was dedicated and became the headquarters for administrative, counseling, nursing and day treatment services.
  • 1993 – Completed construction of two fifteen unit HUD apartments. Apartments were the first new housing in the area constructed exclusively for persons with mental illness.
  • 1994 – Received Medicaid license from the Illinois Department of Mental Health.
  • 1994 – The organization takes over the operation of the “Phoenix House” from NAMI Northern Illinois and begins operated a fully licensed group home serving adult males.
  • 1995 – The organization celebrates twenty-five years of continuous operation with a public Recognition Dinner. Employee service and community support recognition awards are distributed.
  • 1986 – Joined the Northwest Behavioral Health Consortium with area treatment providers in order to institute proactive behavioral healthcare measures.
  • 1997 – Joined Precedence Plus, a not-for-profit Behavioral Healthcare Network.
  • 1997 – Became accredited by The Joint Commission.
  • 1997 – Opened a group home for persons 18-21 years of age who are wards of the Department of Children and Family Services to help residents make the transition to adult hood.
  • 1998 – Closed the financing necessary to purchase four additional apartment buildings in order to provide one bedroom apartments for sixteen individuals.
  • 1998 – Closed two group homes and purchased two larger ones in order to better serve our residents.
  • 1998 – Opened our second group home dedicated exclusively to serving persons with mental illness and intellectual disabilities.
  • 1999 – Expanded psychosocial rehabilitation services to assist individuals with emotional intensity disorders and began offering computer training opportunities. A consumer affairs office is created and consumers were empowered to create a newsletter, plan and operate various special events and attend consumer forums and related training events. A consumer representative is hired to coordinate these consumer services.
  • 1999 – Stepping Stones provides case management to 120 individuals which includes serving residents in seven group homes, two fifteen unit apartments and four supervised apartments.
  • 2000 – In cooperation with the Rockford Housing Authority, opened “River North” a residential program designed specifically to serve seniors living with mental illness and adults with mental illness and traumatic brain injury. Overall agency service capacity reaches 140 persons.
  • 2000 -The organization’s Recognition Dinner features Pulitzer Prize winning author and humorist Art Buchwald as the keynote speaker.
  • 2002 – Lack of adequate funding results in the discontinuation of services to those living with the consequences of traumatic brain injury.
  • 2002 – Due to a lack of funding, the organization turns over the operation of two homes dedicated to serving adults with mental illness and intellectual disabilities and returns to our primary mission of serving adults with serious and persistent mental illnesses.
  • 2003 – Due to lack of funding, one additional group home is closed. Agency now operates four fully supervised group homes, two fifteen united supported housing apartment units, four supervised apartments and in cooperation with the Rockford Housing Authority, a forty bed apartment facility.    
  • 2005 – Stepping Stones completes the purchase of River North, the 40 bed facility designed to serve seniors.
  • 2006 – In keeping with the rehabilitation mission of the agency, The Joint Commission accreditation was replaced by accreditation with the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF).
  • 2007 – The organization maintains active relationship with neighborhood groups including the Coronado-Haskell Neighborhood Association. Employees and individuals served participate in meetings, neighborhood clean-up projects, gardening, anti-crime and related advocacy activities.
  • 2009 – The organization earns re-accreditation from CARF.
  • 2011 – Leadership initiates a Quality Improvement/Utilization system aimed at increasing the quality and effectiveness of services provided.
  • 2012 – The organization earns re-accreditation from CARF and receives no recommendations, which signifies there were no areas of noncompliance to their standards identified. According to CARF, this accomplishment is obtained by only three percent of the organizations they survey.
  • 2012 – A satellite office is opened at 2825 Glenwood in order to expand case management services for individuals living more independently and participating in the organization’s “apartment program” services.
  • 2012 – The Community Conditional Release Program (CCRP) begins to accept referrals to serve males being released to the community into our group home setting. As part of this initiative, an employment specialist and consumer representative are employed.
  • 2013 – In corporation with NAMI Northern Illinois, space is provided at the Mildred Kral Center for the Stars of Light Troupe and its Director begins to provide expressive therapy classes as part of the organization’s Psychosocial Rehabilitation Program.
  • 2013 – The organization enters a collaborative project with an independent film maker towards the goal of producing a feature documentary aimed a breaking stigma. The trailer is filmed on-site and locally and features interviews with staff, individuals served, board members, NAMI family members, members of the Stars of Light Theatre troupe and others.
  • 2013 – The organization takes steps to provide services in the State’s new managed care system.
  • 2013 – CEO Stephen Langley is awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Community Behavioral Healthcare Association (CBHA) of Illinois.