An interview with Nancy Mercer, co-executive director, The Arc of Virginia
The Arc of Virginia advocates for the rights and full participation of all children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Together with our network of members and affiliated chapters, we improve systems of supports and services, connect families, inspire communities and influence public policy.
What services do you provide to youth and adults with disabilities?
It's important to understand The Arc's history to answer this question. The Arc movement in Virginia began more than 50 years ago and is affiliated with The Arc, a national organization founded in 1947. The Arc was, and continues to be, an innovator in creating and providing community services not available through local governments. For example, The Arc has advocated for the creation and improvement of services like inclusive education, equal employment opportunities, and accessible and affordable housing and transportation. As the needs of our communities have changed, we have adapted our services to meet those needs. Today, the goal of The Arc is to provide effective advocacy and direct services for families, children, and adults living with intellectual and developmental disabilities to enable full, welcoming community participation. The Arc no longer stands for "Association of Retarded Citizens" as it did years ago. We are now referred to as The Arc: Working to Create A Life Like Yours (ALLY) for People with Developmental Disabilities.
The Arc believes that access within a community cannot simply be achieved by building a ramp or widening a doorway. Equality is achieved through establishing lifelong relationships, one person and one family at a time. Equality is also achieved by realizing that unique needs require unique strategies for building interdependent lives in the community. Therefore, our services are available to clients with intellectual/developmental disabilities of any age, and to their families.
The Arc has 23 chapters throughout the Commonwealth; all share a focus on advocacy, support, and service. Each chapter offers a unique set of specialized services tailored to meet the needs of the local community, such as employment, residential, recreational, or early intervention services. You can find out more about the services provided by individual chapters of The Arc at http://www.thearc.org/page.aspx?pid=2437.
Are there costs associated with these services?
The Arc is a membership organization. In smaller chapters, membership fees are the primary funding stream for services, providing information, referral, and support to people with developmental disabilities, their loved ones, and people in the community who want to know more. We offer those services free to all who call, since these efforts are underwritten by those who become members of The Arc. In terms of other services provided - residential, vocational, developmental disability waiver service coordination, and day care settings - Medicaid waiver funding is the primary means by which clients pay for services.
It is important to understand that community supports for people with disabilities are not automatic, as they are to students with disabilities in public school systems. Families must apply for services. Funding for community-based services comes from the federal, state, and, sometimes, local levels. Government funding for services is minimal. Long waiting lists for services exist, and every year services are in jeopardy of being cut when difficult budget decisions must be made by government leaders. Therefore, it is very important for the family of a loved one with a disability to begin to prepare financially for that person's future by establishing a special needs trust. For additional information about special needs trusts, go to http://www.hg.org/special-needs-trust.asp.
How can The Arc help clients access community services?
It is a complicated process to learn what resources are available in the community; that is where The Arc in your community comes into play. We can help you navigate the system. As an individual with a disability or as a family member, it is important to know how to contact local offices of government agencies, such as the Community Services Board, Department of Social Services, and the Social Security Administration. You don't have to do this alone - begin the process by contacting the chapter of The Arc near you. We will help!
How can youth and their families create powerful partnerships with the Arc?
The Arc chapters work to be an "ALLY" with over 140,000 citizens with developmental/intellectual disabilities and their families in Virginia. That means helping them identify and pursue the resources they need to live "A Life Like Yours" (ALLY). Every member of our community should be able to make his or her own life choices and have all of the basic rights that everyone else in the community enjoys.
Join your local Arc to support our goal of equality for all members of our community, including those with intellectual disabilities. If your community does not have a chapter of The Arc, it is time to start one! Visit www.thearcofva.org, find us on Facebook, or call The Arc of VA office at (804) 640-8481, or call Jamie Liban, executive director, at The Arc of Virginia Office at (804) 649-8481.