Illinois State Council Knights of Columbus


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MR/LD Fund Drive

The 2008 Drive will be held Sep 19-20-21.

The MRLD or "Tootsie Roll" Fund Drive is one of the most recognizable activities that the Knights of Columbus do. The funds generated from this drive are used to support local programs which help people with special learning needs.

Mental Retardation/Learning Disabilities Fund

February, 1999


One of the most popular and successful programs conducted by the Knights of Columbus state and local councils for the benefit of people with mental retardation and other learning disabilities is fund-raisers under which Knights and their families collect donations outside of stores and on street corners.  In appreciation for donations, contributors are usually presented with a small gift. 


In Illinois and many of other jurisdictions, this gift is a Tootsie Roll.  The fact that so many councils distribute Tootsie Rolls in a very visible manner, has led to the campaign being referred to as the “Tootsie Roll Drive”.  This nickname is understandable, but misleading and inappropriate.  The Knights of Columbus has no official tie to Tootsie Rolls or their manufacturer.  There is no requirement that Tootsie Rolls be the candies distributed during this campaign.  In addition, when referring to this activity, we should be promoting the causes that the money benefits, not the brand name of the candy. 


By resolution, the Illinois Knights of Columbus has for the last 29 years annually promoted “solicitation and disbursement of funds for the State Mentally Handicapped/Mentally Retarded Program”.   At the 1998 Illinois State Convention there was much discussion about the appropriateness and use of terms such as handicapped, retardation or retarded, and  disabilities.  Resolution #28 proposed that this program should not display or use the word retarded and that the program should hereafter be know as the Mentally Handicapped Program.



The term mental retardation is often misunderstood and seen as derogatory. Some think that retardation is diagnosed only on the basis of below-normal intelligence (IQ), and that persons with mental retardation are unable to learn or to care for themselves. Actually, according to the definition by the American Association on Mental Retardation (AAMR), an individual is considered to have mental retardation based on the following three criteria: intellectual functioning level (IQ) is below 70-75; significant limitations exist in two or more adaptive skill areas; and the condition is present from childhood (defined as age 18 or less). 


A very similar definition is also used by The Arc ,”formerly Association for Retarded Citizens of the United States which is the country's largest voluntary  organization committed to the welfare of all children and adults with mental retardation and their families”;  Special Olympics ,“the world's largest year-round program of physical fitness, sports training and athletic competition for people with mental retardation”; and many other professional groups and associations who promote the rights of people with mental retardation..


The term mentally handicapped  had been used for many years “to define persons with significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period”.  However, the regulations for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), formerly the Education of the Handicapped Act (Public Law 94-142), provided more technical definitions for various types of mental disabilities.  These and other documents promote the use of the term handicap not as a synonym for disability, but rather as a condition or barrier imposed by society, the environment, or by one's own self.  Some individuals prefer inaccessible or not accessible to describe social and environmental barriers. Handicap can be used when citing laws and situations but should not be used to describe a disability. Do not refer to people with disabilities as the handicapped or handicapped people. Say the building is not accessible for a wheelchair-user. The stairs are a handicap for her.


This change, as well as wording in the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Federal Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), the National Library of Medicine’s Medical Subject Headings (MeSH),  refined the definitions for many of these words and subsequently changed the eligibility for federal funding for schools and organizations that help people with mental retardation and other disabilities. 


The term  disability refers to a severe or chronic condition of an individual attributable to a mental or physical impairment or combination of mental and physical impairments. The Federal Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) lists four categories under mental disability: psychiatric disability, retardation, learning disability, or cognitive impairment.   Mental disabilities include, but are not limited to: mental retardation, autism, schizophrenia, dyslexia, dyscalculia, attention deficit disorders, aphasia, Parkinson, Alzheimer’s, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, hearing impairments, speech or language impairments, serious emotional disturbances. 


Developmentally disabled refers to those with severe or chronic conditions attributable to mental or physical impairments or combinations of mental and physical impairments (blindness, deafness, etc.).



These definitions are important to understand if the Illinois State Council and its Subordinate Councils want to let the public know what we are doing for people with mental retardation and other mental disabilities. The Illinois Knights of Columbus has continued to use both “handicapped” and “retarded” to define its program in a well meaning, but perhaps inappropriate and out-dated manner, to describe the Fund’s intent to provide support to a wide range of individuals with mental retardation or some closely related form of mental disability and to denote the intent of the fund to promote the elimination of barriers (societal or environmental) for people with these disabilities.  It has generally been accepted that the focus of the Illinois K of C Charities, Inc. Mentally Handicapped/Mentally Retarded Fund is not to include individuals with physical impairments only.


Continuing to use the term handicapped is grammatically incorrect and  retarded, as some have suggested, may be seen as derogatory.  Both mentally handicapped and mental disability may also be misunderstood and have potential for unwanted consequences.  Further, what is presented in our advertisements (aprons, canisters, newspapers, etc.) presents a potential liability issue.  Since the general public and ADA regulations tend to interpret these terms in the broadest sense, the use of  terms like mentally handicapped or mentally disabled would mean that the program supports anything from people with mental impairments due to drug addiction, to depression, to mental retardation.  If we continue to use these terms in our advertisements and someone demands that we support a specific mental impairment (e.g., Parkinson Disease or Alzheimer’s) we will be legally required to provide support or face false advertisement charges.


A review of the 681 organizations whose programs have been funded by Subordinate Councils this fraternal year indicate that Subordinate Councils have a desire to fund mental retardation as well as learning disability programs, especially autism and special education. 


Program Type



Catholic Churches, Schools, Programs



Public School Programs



Special Olympics



Transfer to MR homes






Learning Disabilities



Mental Retardation


Further, for nearly half of the organizations (316) funded and which received nearly half of the total $1,176.434.36 disbursed this fraternal year to-date, it is difficult if not impossible to determine the type of charitable activity program operated from the information provided by the Subordinate Councils on their Request for Distribution forms.  Many requests do not include mailing addresses and many are to organizations {e.g., The Coffee House, the Hanover Park District, Day Disability Awareness, Special Nursing Home, Horses Are Recreational Therapy, Ann Benjamin Fund, Hospital Chinese Mission, Love Letters, etc.} whose names do not readily indicate the nature of  their charitable activity.  Most of these groups probably do qualify for our funding, but without proper documentation that these are, in fact, legitimate charitable organizations, our status as a not-for-profit charity as determined by the Illinois Attorney General and the IRS is in jeopardy.


1.      Recommendations with regard to RESOLUTION changes:

·         The Illinois K of C Charities, Inc. Mentally Handicapped/Mental Retardation Fund  should be changed to Mental Retardation/Learning Disabilities Fund; and 

·         Illinois Subordinate Councils, Assemblies, Chapters, etc. that participate in this program should request funds be drawn from their account with the Illinois State Council K of C Charities, Inc. for disbursements payable to a local program for people with mental retardation/learning disabilities, except that no share of the Council’s funds collected for this program shall be payable to a person, group of persons, or a fraternal, social or veteran organization not allowable by the US Internal Revenue Tax Code, its supplements and amendments.


1.      Recommendations with regard to management of the Mental Retardation/Learning Disabilities Fund and Program:

·         Illinois Subordinate Councils, Assemblies, Chapters, etc. should use the phrase Helping People with Mental Retardation  on all aprons, canisters, etc. rather than “Help the Mentally Retarded”, and

·         Subordinate Councils must be encouraged to be more diligent and thorough in researching the organizations they support.  To assist Subordinate Councils  in this effort, the Illinois K of C Charities, Inc. should:

à        Modify the Disbursement Request form to clearly indicate that a correct mailing address {Name, Street, City, Zip) must be part of the request and that Illinois K of C Charities, Inc. will not issue checks until such information is provided .

à        Beginning with Fraternal Year 2000,  a request for additional information letter should be included with each check issued [Attached].  This letter will ask each organization receiving funding to provide its charitable tax ID number and to identify the type of mental  disability program (psychiatric disability, retardation, learning disability, cognitive impairment, or other) supported.  Letters need not be sent annually in subsequent years once the organization has provided the requested information.  Organizations failing to provide the requested documentation may not be funded in future years.

à        Organizations receiving funding from Subordinate Councils should be listed with total dollar amounts received in the Annual Report of Illinois K of C Charities, Inc. which is included in the Annual Convention delegate packets. This listing could serve as a handy and quick reference guide to qualified organizations for Subordinate Councils.

à        Just as importantly, we need to follow proper guidelines in referring to people with mental retardation and/or disabilities.  This is especially important in our informational literature and when speaking about people with mental retardation and/or disabilities.  Guidelines have been issued by Special Olympics, National Catholic Office for Persons with Disabilities, the University of Kansas Research And Training Center on Independent Living, and The Arc (formerly Association for Retarded Citizens of the United States), and internationally recognized programs serving individuals with mental retardation. They reflect input from over 100 national disability organizations and have been reviewed and endorsed by media and disability experts throughout the country.  Copies of these guidelines should be made available to Subordinate Councils.




1.       Knights of Columbus.  Getting Your Message Across, K of C Public Relations & Publicity Guide #2235, Supreme Council Fraternal Services, One Columbus Plaza, New haven, CT.  06510-3325.

2.       Illinois Knights of Columbus.  “Resolution #5”, Proceedings of the 1998 Illinois State Convention, Chicago, May 1998.

3.       Illinois Knights of Columbus.  “Resolution #28”, Proceedings of the 1998 Illinois State Convention, Chicago, May 1998.

4.       American Association on Mental Retardation. (1992). Mental retardation: Definition, classification and systems of supports (9th ed.). Annapolis, MD:

5.       The ARC. "Report to the Nation on Inclusion in Education of Students with Mental Retardation", ARC, National Headquarters, 500 E. Border Street, Suite 300, Arlington, Texas 76010

6.       Special Olympics.  The Mission of Special Olympics. []

7.       American Psychiatric Association.  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition.  APA, Washington, DC.

8.       Public Law 94-142: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

9.       Americans With Disabilities Act Information on the Web []

10.   Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 [As amended through March 22, 1988] 29 U.S.C. 794. []

11.   National Library of Medicine.  Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), NLM, 8600 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD.

12.   University of Kansas Research and Training Center on Independent Living.  Reporting and Writing about People with Disabilities, 4089 Dole Center, Lawrence, KS [phone: 913-864-4095) []*