September 11 Day of Service Grantees Give Back and Help Prepare Their Communities

This past September marked the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. To honor all who were lost, The Arc joined forces with local chapters of The Arc and other community organizations to develop inclusive volunteer projects centered around the September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance (9/11 Day).

These projects aimed to strengthen and prepare communities for all types of emergencies. Their goal was also to challenge the perception that individuals with disabilities are only service recipients by demonstrating that volunteers with and without disabilities can and do serve their communities side-by-side.

The Arc’s 2021 9/11 Day grantees spent much of the past year preparing for their keynote September 11 weekend events. This year’s grantees included Egyptian Area Agency on Aging, Ridge Area Arc, The Arc of Hanover, The Arc Central Chesapeake Region, Athletes for Hope, Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way, The Arc of Palm Beach County, The Arc Nature Coast, and The Arc Tennessee.

These dedicated organizations served their communities in a variety of ways, including:

  • Hosting community-wide artistic events, which provided a space for community members to create collaborative art that honors those lost on 9/11 and promotes collective strength, resiliency, and remembrance
  • Designing handmade cards of appreciation for local first responders
  • Assembling and distributing emergency kits to local families
  • Distributing emergency preparedness information and templates to community members
  • Installing fire alarms for homeowners living in high-risk neighborhoods

Together, our grantees recruited over 1,000 volunteers, who spent close to 5,000 hours leading a variety of emergency planning activities that benefited over 4,100 individuals.

We would love for your organization to join us next year by building an emergency preparedness volunteer program in your community. We are currently accepting grant applications for the 2022 September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance – and the deadline to apply is November 4. Learn more and apply here!

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Federal Court Blocks Iowa’s Law Banning Masking Requirements in Schools

DES MOINES, Iowa — A federal district court today blocked Iowa’s law prohibiting schools from requiring masks. The court ruled that the law violates the civil rights of children with disabilities, including children with underlying conditions, who are more vulnerable to severe illness or death as a result of COVID-19.

The decision makes clear that children have a right under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to equal access to their educations, which for some children with underlying conditions and disabilities, requires that schools implement universal masking requirements.

The district court recognized that “forcing children to bear the brunt of societal discord is ‘illogical and unjust’” and cited data showing that “the current level of the delta variant in Iowa has increased the infection rate and severity of infection. Some public schools in Iowa are experiencing COVID-19 infection rates at upwards of 60 percent that of last year’s total for the entire school year.” The court also cited data showing that the number of children hospitalized due to COVID-19 is also on the rise.

The decision comes in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Iowa, Disability Rights Iowa, The Arc of the United States, and law firms Arnold & Porter and Duff Law Firm, P.L.C. on behalf of The Arc of Iowa and 11 parents of children with disabilities.

The following statements are from:

Shira Wakschlag, Senior Director of Legal Advocacy and General Counsel, The Arc of the United States:

“The court is making it clear that students with disabilities have the right to go to school safely during this pandemic. The Arc will continue fighting to ensure that students with disabilities are able to attend their neighborhood schools alongside their peers without disabilities without putting their health and their lives at risk.”

Rita Bettis Austen, legal director of the ACLU of Iowa:

“We are grateful to the district court for blocking this dangerous law, which put vulnerable kids in harm’s way and violated their civil rights in education. We are relieved that schools across the state will now be able to protect those kids as required by federal law. No parent should be asked to choose between the safety and health of their child and their child’s ability to go to school, but that’s exactly the position that this law put parents across Iowa in.”

Susan Mizner, director of the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program:

“This is a huge victory for our plaintiffs and all parents of children with disabilities who have been forced to choose between protecting the health of their children and ensuring they receive an education alongside their peers. This decision opens the door for schools across Iowa to take basic public health measures to protect their students. It also should send a message to other states that they cannot put politics above the rights and safety of students with disabilities. Disability rights laws were passed precisely for this situation – in which children with disabilities health and education would be sacrificed for the convenience of the majority. Banning the possibility that schools may require masks — in the middle of a pandemic — discriminates against school children with disabilities. All students with disabilities should be able to attend school safely, as federal disability rights laws guarantee.”

Catherine E. Johnson, executive director, Disability Rights Iowa:

“The order entered today restores our students’ with disabilities long-held civil rights of equal access to their education and full inclusion with their general education peers in the school curriculum and all other activities and programs offered by their school. Today is a monumental day for all plaintiffs, as well as all Iowans forced to choose between sacrificing their child’s health or education opportunities. Effective today, parents no longer have to make this impossible choice, their children are entitled to both.”

Photos and videos of some clients, attorneys, and organizational logos available here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1-XIhBS5ZyNVRRh9lENyhqMbJi5PLqqky

More details about this case are here: https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/lawsuit-challenges-iowa-law-banning-schools-requiring-masks

The decision is here: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/arc-iowa-v-reynolds-order-granting-temporary-restraining-order

This statement is here: https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/federal-court-blocks-iowas-law-banning-masking-requirements-schools

 

MLK Day logo that says "MLK Day of Service - Corporation for National and Community Service"

Individual Food Drives Help Feed Hungry Tulsans

As The Arc of Oklahoma watched COVID-19 infections rise in their state in the second half of 2020, they hoped restrictions would decrease in time for their MLK Day of Service event in January 2021. But as the year progressed and COVID cases continued their upward trend, the organization began laying the groundwork to transition their in-person event into a virtual one. Regardless of the format, the goal remained the same: make a notable dent in Tulsa’s 15.8% food insecure population.

MLK Day of Service volunteers

Interested in hosting your own MLK Day of Service event? Apply for a grant from The Arc and AmeriCorps to help organize your 2022 service project, give back to your community, and promote the inclusion of people with disabilities!

The Arc of Oklahoma’s Board of Directors, members of their Self-Advocacy Program, and community partners ultimately decided that individual food drives would maintain the integrity of the event while preserving the health and safety of all involved. So, “Individual Food Drive Hosts” set to work, collecting food items from families, neighbors, church members, and co-workers. Hosts then donated the items to their chosen pantry. By the end of March, 60 volunteers had administered individual food drives, serving nearly 430 of their fellow Tulsans.

The recipients of the individual food drives were not the only beneficiaries of the program. Volunteers from The Arc of Oklahoma’s Self-Advocacy Program also reaped benefits, growing professionally and personally. The majority of the volunteers have an intellectual and/or developmental disability (IDD) and experience difficulty communicating verbally and in social situations. Service projects such as these allow people with IDD to play a vital role in their communities though volunteering. As an added bonus, these individuals gain access to a welcoming and safe environment to practice social interactions and build the confidence needed to speak up for themselves and others.

Although the format of The Arc of Oklahoma’s 2021 MLK Day of Service event changed from their original proposal, it was a wonderful kick-off to a year of service, just as Dr. King had envisioned. Subsequent activities, such as the organization’s recent drive-through food distribution, have furthered the goal of alleviating hunger in Tulsa.

As The Arc of Oklahoma’s service events continue into the summer and fall, the organization’s true impact on food insecurity has yet to be seen. But if the following statement from a family who benefited from the food drive is any indication, the organization’s impact promises to be significant!

“I want to thank you with all my heart for how much you have helped us! You are wonderful people. Thank you for being so generous. Thank you to everyone who has helped us through you. You are angels to our family, and we are fortunate to know you!”

A gloved hand holding a vaccine vial, with the words COVID-19 in black on a board behind it.

Vaccine Discrimination: Disability Advocacy Groups File Federal Lawsuit Alleging 6 Maryland Jurisdictions Discriminate in Vaccine Process

Today, The Arc Maryland, represented by Disability Rights Maryland, The Arc of the United States, and Brown & Barron, LLC filed a federal lawsuit alleging that six jurisdictions in Maryland, including Baltimore City, discriminate against people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) by denying them opportunities to access COVID-19 vaccinations inconsistent with the State’s Executive order and Vaccination Plan. This discrimination puts lives at stake and violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Five counties and Baltimore City are identified in the lawsuit as excluding individuals with IDD in their list of who is eligible, preventing those with IDD from accessing vaccinations. The counties include, Queen Anne’s County, Carroll County, Garrett County, Somerset County, and Talbot County.

Ivis Burris has muscular dystrophy and requires support staff to come to her apartment to assist her with nursing needs. She lives in Baltimore City with her adult son who has Down syndrome. Under the state Vaccination Plan, they are both eligible for the vaccine under Phase 1B as individuals with IDD. But when Ms. Burris went to the Baltimore City COVID-19 website, she thought she wasn’t eligible to request the vaccine for herself and her son because the City excludes people with IDD from its list of those eligible for Phase 1B. Ms. Burris explains, “I want a fair chance like everybody else to live. My son deserves a fair chance to live. Considering our situation – I need a ventilator to breathe and my son is at higher risk because of his Down syndrome – it is really critical that we get the vaccine. Our disabilities put us at higher risk.”

“It is frustrating to have our state recognize people with IDD to be the 1B priority group for the vaccine, only for people with IDD to be denied equitable access to the vaccine from the counties in which they live. We hope this action will result in immediate change for the benefit of all,” said Ray Marshall, board president of The Arc Maryland.

It is well established that COVID-19-related fatality rates among people with IDD who test positive for COVID-19 are nearly three times greater than the mortality rates among the general population who are positive for the virus. People with IDD also face heightened risk because many rely on caregivers or direct support professionals who provide assistance with activities of daily living, for which social distancing is often not possible. Frequently, such caregivers serve multiple people raising risks of transmission. Despite advocacy from The Arc Maryland, people with IDD are not getting equal access to vaccines, compelling the need for the lawsuit.

“We need these localities to take immediate corrective action to fix their information; to fix forms that exclude individuals with disabilities from claiming eligibility and seeking vaccine appointments; to tell health department staff and others that people with disabilities are eligible and to assist them with obtaining the vaccine. The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed over thirty years ago with a purpose of ending historic inequities in health care. We need immediate action to protect lives,” said Lauren Young, Litigation Director for Disability Rights Maryland.

“Throughout this pandemic, The Arc has fought to ensure that people with disabilities nationwide have equal access to treatment and are not subject to medical discrimination,” said Peter Berns, CEO for The Arc of the United States. “As vaccines are distributed around the country, we will remain vigilant to ensure people with IDD are not discriminated against in this process.”

“Ensuring that vulnerable populations have access to life-saving vaccines, and that the State’s distribution plan prioritizing these populations is followed, is in accordance with Brown & Barron’s core principles and values of promoting access to quality healthcare for all. We are proud to stand behind The Arc in supporting these individuals and communities at this crucial time,” said Brian Brown, managing member of Brown & Barron, LLC.”

The Arc of the United States is the largest grassroots organization dedicated to advancing the civil rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Arc Maryland is an affiliate of The Arc of the United States. There are 11 chapters of The Arc throughout the state, including The Arc Maryland.

Disability Rights Maryland (DRM), a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, is Maryland’s designated Protection & Advocacy agency. DRM advocates to advance the civil rights of people with disabilities throughout Maryland. 

Brown & Barron, LLC is a civil justice law firm in Baltimore, Maryland.

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Adapting to Changing Landscapes: The Creativity and Perseverance of The Arc’s Chapters During COVID-19

Over the last 10 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably shifted the reality of how we connect with each other. To protect the safety of people with disabilities, their families, and our staff, The Arc’s chapters were forced to rapidly shut down in-person services and shift to a virtual format. Many chapters worried they might not be able to sustain the services and programming that are critical to their communities.

Comcast NBCUniversal recognized that the pandemic threatened to cut off critical local support systems for people with disabilities at a time when they were needed the most and stepped up to quickly provide support. Comcast generously provided grants with flexibility so chapters of The Arc could make the most impact in their fight to safely prevent isolation and support overburdened families. This allowed our chapters to explore new and innovative ways to engage families in the community, at times reaching more people than in the past.

At New Star, Inc. in Illinois and Indiana, the virtual environment brought by the pandemic has provided new opportunities to connect to the community in ways not previously available. For example, the shift has provided 35-year-old Alyssa with the possibility to participate in programming she was unable to before. Before the pandemic, Alyssa couldn’t participate in day programming for years due to her intense medical needs resulting from Angelman Syndrome. When her chapter’s offerings shifted to an online format, it increased her ability to join activities like being read to, exercise programs, socialization with peers, and music therapy. Alyssa’s mother, Renee Valfre stated,

“I have seen her cognition, attending and comprehension skills improve. I find the structure Zoom offers her in a setting at home, that is calm without the stimulus of others’ movements, vocalizations and outbursts, allows Alyssa to focus on the activity. Without virtual programming, Alyssa would have had no instruction or involvement with other individuals during the quarantine.”

A young man stands in his home on a hardwood floor with a few plants behind him and an area rug to his right. A small gray dog naps on a piece of furniture to his left.
David dances with his peers during a virtual Friday dance party

Another New Star virtual program, the Friday dance party, has provided valuable opportunities for social engagement as participants struggle through prolonged isolation at home. Each week, dance party participants work together to pick a theme and songs. On Friday, they gather on video to let loose, do musical trivia, learn new dances, and take turns co-DJing and interacting with peers.

Community member David has been at home and unable to spend time with his friends since March. During this time, his dance parties were limited to a party of one. But with the help of New Star’s Community Day Services and the webcams purchased with their Comcast grant funding, he has been able to join group dance parties and interact with friends while doing what he loves!

David’s mom, Denise Rhodes, couldn’t be happier with how much the program has helped him: “I always say, get up and get active! Virtual dance parties have helped David do that!”

Comcast’s assistance helped open a virtual door for another group The Arc provides services for: parents. Many parents of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities informed The Arc of Aurora in Colorado that schooling their children with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) at home was challenging. With support from Comcast, The Arc of Aurora created a no-cost online training for parents called Schooling at Home: Your Guide To Remote and Hybrid Learning With IEP Supports. Both parents and educators have enrolled since the training kicked off in September, and that number rises each week. The training delves into how to navigate the special education system and speak up for students in areas like IEPs, procedural rights, and documentation as well as downloadable resources.

“The training aided in clarity for remote learning information and future planning. As a seasoned mom-advocate, I definitely learned things I didn’t know and hadn’t heard!” -Marry Baker, mother of child with IDD

Comcast NBCUniversal’s support extends far beyond chapter funding. They are leveraging their media platforms to raise public awareness of the impacts of the pandemic on people with IDD—including through multiple segments on the TODAY Show, expanding internet access to low-income families and school districts through Internet Essentials, and advancing accessibility with technology like the voice-activated remote control, X1 eye control, and a dedicated service center for customers with disabilities.

As our chapters continue to find creative solutions to the challenges brought forth by COVID-19, they can breathe a little easier knowing that partners like Comcast will continue to have the backs of people with disabilities, their families, and those who support them.


These grants and more are made possible by:

Comcast logo featuring rainbow icon above the text

Click Here for Inclusion: Staying Connected During COVID-19

For people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), a fully integrated life in the community often depends on not only people-powered supports like direct support professionals and job coaches, but on the technology to facilitate skill building, social connection, and much more.

As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world and shut down entire communities, people with disabilities saw many of those connections and daily routines come screeching to a halt.

Seeing the desperate need for solutions, Comcast NBCUniversal stepped up to quickly provide support where it was needed most. Comcast generously provided grants with flexibility so chapters of The Arc could make the most impact in their fight to safely prevent isolation and support overburdened families. This allowed our chapters to explore new and innovative ways to engage families in the community, at times reaching more people than in the past.

In Larimer County, Colorado, Sam and his mother found themselves stuck at home together and sharing her work laptop. Sam was able to use the laptop for high school classes and his social life—but because his mom also needed it for work, his usage was limited. On top of that, he was not able to download everything he needed for school. The other devices in the house were either no longer able to connect to the internet, out of storage, or not exclusively his. The lack of access prevented him from participating in Zoom calls with his fellow high school classmates and put him behind not only socially but academically. Sam and his mom felt frustrated and left behind, as so many others have during this pandemic.

Through the support of Comcast NBCUniversal, The Arc of Larimer County was able to help Sam and his mother by providing Sam his own new laptop to use however and whenever he wanted. He was finally able to reconnect with his friends virtually and have a sense of independence with having something of his own, giving him something positive as he toughs out the continued isolation wrought by COVID-19.

And Sam’s not the only one thrilled with his new computer! His mom says, “This will be a great stress relief, an answer to prayers. We have been actively looking and trying to make do with my work computer and the one we have to return. Thank you so much for helping our family in this tough time.”          

On the East Coast in Philadelphia, Eloisa Maglaya found herself facing the same challenges. Prior to COVID-19, she was very active in the community and enjoyed attending a variety of events. But once she was home with few options to safely socialize and stay active, she found herself feeling isolated and frustrated. This all changed with the tablet given to her by The Arc of Philadelphia. With her new tablet, she is able to:

  • Maintain a daily routine
  • Stream virtual Zumba classes (her favorite pre-pandemic activity) and stay active
  • Watch movies in her native Tagalog Philippine language
  • Learn how to navigate app usage directions, stream her favorite videos, and better use the device features with the help of her direct support professional
  • Stay updated on COVID-19 safety procedures 

The positive effects of Eloisa’s tablet have been immeasurable. Her family and The Arc’s staff have reported seeing her more joyous and happier!

Comcast NBCUniversal’s support extends far beyond chapter funding. They are leveraging their media platforms to raise public awareness of the impacts of the pandemic on people with IDD—including through multiple segments on the TODAY Show, expanding internet access to low-income families and school districts through Internet Essentials, and advancing accessibility with technology like the voice-activated remote control, X1 eye control, and a dedicated service center for customers with disabilities.

In our hyper-connected world, technology was already what kept us connected from day to day. But as we limit physical contact to stay safe, digital access has become more vital than ever. For people with IDD—who have had to fight for decades for the chance to be included in their communities—access to the digital world ensures that progress is not lost and they can remain connected and engaged with the people and activities they love most.

These grants and more are made possible by:

Comcast logo featuring rainbow icon above the text

 

a group of people of varying ages walk on a field with sunset in the background. They all wear blue shirts that say "volunteer".

2020 MLK Grantees Continue the Fight Against Hunger

Since 2015, The Arc has been the proud recipient of a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency that funds the national Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service activities. Under this grant, chapters of The Arc and other organizations executed projects all across the U.S, uniting volunteers with and without disabilities in service to their communities.

With the pandemic plunging millions into hunger, the following organizations followed in the footsteps of their predecessors and designed initiatives that sought to reduce food insecurity in their individual neighborhoods:  

The Arc of Midland (MI); Ridge Area Arc (FL); The Arc Nature Coast (FL); The Arc of the Glades (FL); The Arc of South Carolina; UCP Seguin (IL); The Arc of Oklahoma (formerly TARC); Choices for Community Living, Inc. (DE); The Arc of Southwest Colorado; The Arc Lane County (OR); The Arc of Rockland (NY); AHRC New York City; Holly Ridge Center (WA); The Arc Jacksonville (FL); Youth Impact (TX); The Nashville Food Project (TN); The Arc Williamson County (TN); The Arc Central Virginia; Boys & Girls Club Blue Ridge (VA); Stone Soup Cafe/All Souls Church (MA); Star, Inc. (CT); Arc of Calhoun & Cleburne Counties (AL); Cass Community Social Services (MI), and last but certainly not least, Arc of Quad Cities Area (IL)

These grantees worked tirelessly to deliver food assistance to their neighbors experiencing food insecurity, many for the first time. With the pandemic in full swing by March, organizations quickly modified their initiatives to adhere to social distancing guidelines.   Projects ranged in size and scope, and often reflected the culture of their community. Volunteers engaged in a variety of service opportunities, including:

  • Organizing food drives to collect food from individuals, businesses, and restaurants
  • Working in gardens or with farmers to gather, package, and distribute fresh fruits and vegetables to local food banks
  • Strengthening the capacity of local Meals on Wheels and Elderly Nutrition programs to serve home-bound seniors
  • Partnering with soup kitchens and elementary schools to serve lunch and dinner to community residents experiencing food insecurity

At the end of the grant period, 3,500 volunteers with and without disabilities had served 76,000 meals to 30,000 of their neighbors, contributing 27,000 hours and $753,000 in value to their respective organizations.

At a moment when the need for hunger assistance continues to climb in America, every grantee rose to the challenge. More importantly, while these dedicated organizations were delivering food aid to their neighbors, they were simultaneously demonstrating a timeless truth: the tremendous contribution volunteers with disabilities bring to their local communities. For all their time and efforts, The Arc will be forever grateful.

With COVID-19 wreaking havoc so many lives, volunteering in your local community is more important than ever. The Arc is once again partnering with CNCS to offer $5,000, $10,000, and $15,000 grants to chapters of The Arc and other local nonprofit organizations to develop September 11th Day of Service and Remembrance projects. Learn more about this exciting opportunity and apply by December 4. We would love to have your organization join us!

 

Two green vending machines, one with food and one with drinks, next to each other

Getting Creative With Fundraising at The Arc of Iowa

The Arc of Iowa was struggling financially with local chapters closing, memberships declining, and a growing need for advocacy related to managed care moving into the state. They wanted to build a social entrepreneur program that would help augment current fundraising and membership dues. The program needed to increase the awareness of The Arc of Iowa, engage existing chapters, and be a program that could be grown in both rural and urban communities. In what felt like a do or die moment, the board and director took a leap and spent every dime on building 28 vending machines that were placed in four communities across the state. We chatted with the Executive Director of The Arc of Iowa, Doug Cunningham to learn how the program works.

What does the manpower behind the vending machines look like? How do you fund, place, stock, and maintain them?

We partnered with Goodwill to assist with staffing statewide. One individual can stock three to four machines a day. They sort products based on a checklist, package them, and take them to the location. They then put the items in the machines, count the items, clean the machine, and digitally fax the inventory back to the State Office each day. We placed machines in the Goodwill Service Centers and on their store floors, programs that serve individuals with disabilities, and local businesses. They recruit workers with varying abilities and we train them to stock and service the machines. They even donated space in their local service centers to warehouse products. The sales are GPS monitored and we can see when machines require service or stocking from a central location. The machines cost between $4,000 to $7,000 a piece and require about $1,500 in coins and stock to set up. The machines are expected to have a useful life expectancy of 10 to 15 years.

Where does profit from the machines go?

Annually the machines generate about $5000 to $7000 a piece. Merchandise costs about 35% of what we can sell it for and labor is an additional 20%. We give the local sites 10% of the revenue and we used the remaining proceeds to build a new interactive website, a new statewide fund raising tool that local chapters can use,  training for self-advocates, fund a liaison at the State Capital, pay affiliation dues, and to further grow the vending program.   

How the initiative resulted in new or amplified relationships with other organizations/companies throughout the state?

One of the biggest challenges that the vending machines helped us overcome is getting out of our state offices and forcing us to work in the local communities. There was a disconnect between the state office and the local chapters. The vending machines required us to know the staff in Goodwill, our local chapters, and other agencies that allowed us to place machines in their facilities. It also gave us a unique way to inspire donors to invest in The Arc of Iowa again. In fact, a donor ended up paying off $70,000 of our machines and challenged the community to assist which generated another $25,000 in gifts.   

What are your hopes for the long-term growth and sustainability of the program?

We currently have 28 machines across the state which generate $90,000 annually. We hope to have hundreds of machines that generate an endless and consistent stream of revenue that can promote advocacy for years to come. After three years, and the generosity of donors, the machines were profitable and now provide a steady stream of revenue every day.  

How can other chapters explore and implement similar revenue-creating ventures?

The company that builds these machines can ship and set them up internationally. This opportunity is still in its infancy, and we made mistakes—however, there is room in the profitability to make those mistakes and learn from them. To make the program successful you need to think big. Build lots of machines and the infrastructure around it. The more machines you have, the better the value and the more efficient you become. Be interdependent with your local chapters for the highest impact. To make The Arc relevant, the community needs to see us. These machines, staffed by people with disabilities and used as big marketing machines, can promote awareness and foster financial independence for your chapter. Please feel free to reach out to me at doug@thearcofiowa.org for further questions.

A woman with blonde hair wearing a blue dress poses, smiling, against a wall with her arms gently crossed at the wrist.

Serving a State: An Interview With the Only Chapter in Oklahoma

Lisa Turner, Executive Director of TARC

As the only chapter of The Arc in the state of Oklahoma, TARC has both a unique opportunity and challenge. Around 60,000 Oklahomans have intellectual and/or developmental disabilities–and are spread across almost 70,000 square miles. The chapter employs a range of strategies to help as many people as possible. Read more about their work below.

Tell us what it’s like being the only chapter of The Arc in your state.

As the only affiliate of The Arc in Oklahoma, TARC takes an active role in convening organizations serving the I/DD community for events, like the upcoming listening session in Tulsa. TARC participates in numerous statewide initiatives that impact the lives of those we serve. We are active in public policy and advocacy and recruit and train others across the state to join our efforts.

What communication strategies do you employ to reach as many people as possible throughout the state? (emails, print products, online groups, etc)

TARC recently conducted a statewide community needs assessment to identify the unmet needs of individuals with I/DD and their families and caregivers. Focus groups included self-advocates, family members or caregivers, community partners, and funders. Through this process, unmet needs were identified, helping to refine TARC’s strategic plan and guiding us to form more partnerships and collaborations.

In addition, we work with partners around the state like the Developmental Disabilities Council, People First, and other like-minded organizations to help generate awareness about I/DD-related events, advocacy opportunities, and public policy issues.

How do you structure your programs and services to be available to as many people as possible?

TARC is stepping up communication and marketing strategies to develop the infrastructure, partnerships, and tools to inform as many people as possible about the needs of the I/DD community and services available. TARC just opened a new office in Oklahoma City to increase our presence at the State Capitol and engage in opportunities for more partnerships, services, and funding.

Do you partner with other providers and organizations to maximize your ability to serve the community? If yes, how so?

TARC recently received the 2019 Goodwill Community Partner of the Year Award for convening several providers and nonprofits to host a transition resource fair for self-advocates. We also support two People First chapters, are active in Oklahoma People First, and the Oklahoma Self-Advocates Network. Together, we co-host I/DD awareness events at the Capitol and in our community. We also invite participants from employment agencies to join us for MLK Volunteer Service days.

How does being the only chapter in the state affect your funding streams and strategy for engaging with sponsors, grants, and donors?

TARC contracts with the State of Oklahoma to provide residential advocacy and monitoring for adults residing in state-funded group homes in all of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. For much of our organization’s history, funding has come from the Tulsa area, where we are located. We recently began expanding our relationships with funders and sponsors across the state since our reach really is statewide through our advocacy work and our state contract.

Do you have any advice for other chapters who are merging to cover a larger area, or who are also the only chapter in a large geographic area?

Collaborations and partnerships are key! Consider collective impact models to enhance your advocacy efforts and voice. Together we are stronger.

Lisa Turner, TARC Executive Director

lturner@ddadvocacy.net  

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Spreading the Holiday Spirit of Giving With The Arc of Harrisonburg and Rockingham

Now in its second year, The Arc of Harrisonburg and Rockingham’s “Santa Run, Walk, ‘N Roll” brings the community together during the season of giving to raise awareness and funds for the chapter. Capitalizing on the holiday spirit and everyone’s love of festive cheer, the event provides Santa suits and elf ears to make everyone a “helper” in spreading joy. The parade lasts for a half mile through downtown Harrisonburg right before the city’s holiday parade. We asked Heather Denman, Executive Director of the chapter, what makes the event so special and successful!

How did the Santa Run, Walk, ‘N Roll get started? 

The Arc of the Piedmont located in Charlottesville VA has successfully held a Santa Fun Run for six years. The Arc of Harrisonburg and Rockingham was interested in establishing an inclusive friend- and fund-raising event and The Arc of the Piedmont generously helped get us started. We renamed the event Santa Run, Walk, ‘N Roll. The Arc of Hanover (another VA chapter) is having their first Santa Run this year. Our goal is to have all chapters of The Arc throughout Virginia conduct the event on the same weekend each December.

How far out do you begin meeting and preparing for the event to ensure success? What does the process of bringing it to life look like?

The main promotional thrust for Santa Run should begin in September, but we start the planning process with the submission of an application to the City in February. We also make early arrangements with The Friendly City Food Co-op where we begin and end the Run, Walk, ‘N Roll. We used Eventbrite for registration the first year but have purchased fundraising software (Salsa) that better allows for teams and individuals to sign up and invite people to sponsor them. Prizes collected throughout the year are awarded in a number of categories, including most money raised by an individual, most raised by a team, and best decorated wheelchair, stroller, and pet. Television, radio, and print advertising campaigns are donated in exchange for event sponsorships and they begin in October with increasing frequency closer to the event. Board and community volunteers help secure sponsors, distribute posters, and promote it on social media. At the event, volunteers help with registration and provide and dispense hot chocolate and cider, holiday cookies and snacks at the registration/finish line. Participants receive a bag with sponsor swag and coupons for Santas to enjoy a free or reduced price item at downtown restaurants post event.

How do you get other community organizations and companies involved, either as sponsors or participants?

Expenses for the event are very low (Santa suits are about $9) so corporate sponsorships more than cover the costs of the event. While we prefer to line up sponsors well in advance, companies often have funds left over at year end and are happy to help. Each sponsorship comes with free registration at commensurate levels—a $500 sponsor gets 4 free registrations and a $5,000 sponsor gets 20. This encourages sponsors to form teams and become engaged beyond their donation. Local universities help promote the event on their campuses. We also utilize our DD provider networks, The Chamber of Commerce, the United Way, and social media. 

How does the event serve as a vehicle for more people in the community to get involved in the chapter, either as volunteers, clients, or staff? 

Publicity for the event including promotion and media coverage create much needed awareness of our mission. An information station is manned at the event with sign-ups for volunteering, newsletters and memberships.

How do you ensure the event is inclusive and welcomes everyone from the planning side as well as the participation side?

We ensure staff and consumer participation by allocating Community Engagement (CE) or Community Coaching time to Santa Run. A fellow provider has offered overtime to all their staff who provide support to their individuals to participate. We also provide transportation to and from the event and have college volunteers on hand to provide individual support for members of CE teams or others needing assistance. A self-advocate serves on the board of directors and has been involved in the planning of the event and we are in the process of establishing a self-advocacy committee that will have representation on a state-wide self-advocacy alliance.