About Mary Lee Foundation

We offer a full range of progressive neurological, orthopedic and special needs services.

Our mission

To serve adults with diverse needs so that they may develop a sense of dignity, a sense of self-worth, and the skills necessary to socially integrate with and contribute to the community in which they live.

Our history

Mary Lee School opened its doors in 1963 in a modest
2-bedroom home in South Austin. The rest is history.


Charlene Crump opened Mary Lee School in February 1963.

A pioneering force of the larger national conversation, Charlene Crump set out to establish the first residential facility in Texas for girls with IDD. The Mary Lee Foundation began in 1963 as Mary Lee School of Special Education (Mary is Crump’s first name, and Lee is her, now ex-, husband’s middle name), a low-budget residential program in a rented two-bedroom home in south Austin.  Founder Crump and assistant Leona Winston provided around-the-clock care and education to four girls, equipping them with the skills to care for themselves and earn a living. Though employers were initially hesitant to take them on board, all four girls eventually found jobs and gained a level of independence that would have been nearly unattainable before their training at Mary Lee School. Within three months, Crump opened a second unit next door to the original schoolhouse, boosting enrollment to thirteen students.


By 1966, Mary Lee School had an enrollment of 31 students in three buildings.


In 1969, the Texas Rehabilitation Commission approved Mary Lee for a study to determine if women could be de-institutionalized and become socially and vocationally independent.

From the start her philosophy had been that the way to be accepted and acceptable is to hold a job. After three years, the commission found 90% of the clients in the study met most, if not all of the criteria for social and vocational independence. Also in 1969, Mary Lee received funding through a federal research grant to determine if individuals with IDD and mental illness could benefit from rehabilitation programs. To implement these and other new programs, Charlene hired Don Lilljedahl, MSW and ordained minister as the program director. Lilljedahl continued in his position until December 2016, when he retired after forty-seven years of dedicated service.


Mary Lee School celebrates its ten year anniversary in February 1973.


In 1974, Mary Lee School purchased apartment buildings on Lamar Square Drive in order to provide sheltered living facilities for adults with disabilities.

The Southpointe facilities, licensed Intermediate Care Facilities and transitional living programs, found their homes in those apartments and other acquired properties on the square. As other licensed programs for adults and children with disabilities became available in Texas, no other adult program facilitated the level of independent living that Crump knew was possible. At Mary Lee’s SouthPointe program, each client lives on their own or with a roommate and are taught to take care of their apartment, cook their own meals, and—in most cases—keep a job.


The school changed its name to Mary Lee Foundation in 1976 to encompass its widening range of facilities and services.


When the Austin Zilker Neighborhood Association organized in 1981, Mary Lee Foundation employees began attending their meetings.

The foundation continues to maintain great relationships with the neighborhood association, other local property owners, and local business owners.


Southpointe was established, first as a co-op program for adults with disabilities. The original co-op apartment buildings are now used for our transitional living program.

In September 1984, Mary Lee Foundation was awarded a federal block grant to start a new employment program for people with disabilities.


In 1985, Mary Lee Foundation received a grant from the Lola Wright Foundation to purchase new recreation equipment for all its children’s facilities.


In 1988, Mary Lee Foundation finished its community center, which now holds the Daybreak Activity Center program for adults with special needs.


In 1994, Mary Lee Foundation opened its Rehabilitation Center for adult survivors of brain injuries and other neurological disorders.


In 1997, Mary Lee Foundation opened Daybreak Activity Center, its day habilitation center for adults with special needs.


Charlene Crump, MLF founder and director, was awarded The Governor’s Trophy, the Governor committee’s highest honor, in 2001.


Mary Lee Foundation Rehabilitation Center (MLFRC) was awarded the Lex Frieden Employment Award in 2004.


Chip Howe, MLFRC admissions coordinator, received the Brain Injury Association of Texas‘s Humanitarian Award in 2005.


Chip Howe received the Brain Injury Association of America‘s National Leadership Award in 2006.

Chip Howe received the City of Austin’s Distinguished Service Award in 2006.


In 2011, The Willows apartment building was erected, adding more than fifty affordable apartments to the square.


The Legacy apartment building was constructed and unveiled in 2013. This building received a four-star energy rating and added more than forty affordable apartments to the square.


After 59 years leading the organization, founder Charlene Crump retires.  Russ Walker is named new Executive Director.

Meet the board