All parents want their children to have the same opportunities as others when it comes to leading a fulfilling life. Yet the parents of children with intellectual and development disabilities often face a tangled social, political and legal landscape, and it often requires the coordinated efforts of relatives, friends and special needs professionals to help them map their way.
Then, as children with disabilities mature, families must balance concern for their safety and well being with a desire to encourage their independence. Like all young adults, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities strive to live self-directed, satisfying lives after high school.
Last week, to celebrate Disability Awareness Month and increase understanding, The Arc Northwest Indiana invited clients, family members and friends to a free screening of The Other Sister, a 1999 film that takes a look at a family coming to terms with the dreams of a daughter/sister with an intellectual disability through the eyes of legendary Hollywood filmmaker, Garry Marshall.
With an all-star cast including Diane Keaton, Tom Skerritt and Juliette Lewis, The Other Sister is a funny and uplifting comedy about a young woman who “dreams to dare” her family and society to support her right to live, learn and love, just like her “perfect” sister.
When it comes to improving the welfare of local people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, The Arc has a rich history of successful outcomes – providing the dignity, security and personal fulfillment essential to quality of life that all individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities deserve - thanks to the ongoing support of a dedicated group of parents, family members, volunteers, staff and other advocates throughout Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.
Seven Decades of Guiding, Inspiring and Empowering
Established in 1952, The Arc has grown and adapted to the changes that people with disabilities face across their life span. Through the decades, as part of a broad network of state and local chapters with the support of a national nonprofit organization, The Arc has seen several name changes, advocated for the passage of state and federal legislation on behalf of people with disabilities and enthused a broad network of supporters.
“We provide personalized services for more than 750 participants. These individuals live at home with their parents or live on their own in the community with support, some are married with families. These are real people with a full life just like you and I,” Acting Executive Director Cindy Shikles said. “It’s certainly no secret that we’ve had some challenges over the last few years, but I can tell you that the team in place now is very excited about the future. They are bringing fresh, new ideas to the table, and we’re already seeing positive change.”
For starters, The Arc Northwest Indiana achieved the highest accreditation by CARF, an independent nonprofit accreditor of health and human services, with a perfect survey result and is licensed and certified by the Indiana Facilities Council as an Intermediate Care Provider. As an ISO 9001 certified organization, The Arc provides continually improving services, adding value to the individual lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Arc Day Services – Developing Work and Socialization Skills
The Arc operates four community centers where 210 individuals are served in facility-based Group Habilitation programs, 250 participate in Pre-Vocational services and 23 are in the Social Integration program for careful and protected access into the community.
“The people in most of these programs do paid work and pay taxes themselves,” Shikles explained. “The big goal is to get them working outside in the community, but some people do prefer to work here. Our production work in-house is growing again so we can fulfill their desire to earn a paycheck.”
One example can be seen at the North Center where a new machine for recycling granite has just been delivered.
In addition, the Recreation Department, which is based at the North Center where there is a pool and gym, supports 70 athletes in state and local Special Olympic competitions while the Community Connections program assists 112 people who participate in community activities and/or volunteer at other local nonprofits.
Arc Residential Services – Promoting Independence
The Arc supports 44 individuals in their own homes and provides respite services for families to enable continued care at home because it’s important for everyone to have a choice in the things that impact their lives.
In fact, Arc Recreation Coordinator Susan Boyer is part of a statewide team that gathers information and empowers individuals to make choices and improve their quality of life as part of the “My Life My Choice” initiative. These self-advocates are increasingly shaping their own destinies, but it takes a team to assist them with the tools to succeed.
This year, Stacey Magee, who grew up in a nursing home for children and was non ambulatory, had a feeding tube and barely verbal prior to receiving services at The Arc, shares her story of how making her own decisions has helped her lead a full and happy life as the lead interviewer with Boyer.
Now living in her own apartment in The Arc’s Supported Living program, Magee is able to make money, enjoy her hobbies, has a boyfriend and travels. Along with her “My Life My Choice” job, she works in-house at the Highland Center and recently became a porter at Steak 'n Shake in Schererville.
“I like my job here and working with Sue on Thursdays, but Steak ‘n Shake is my favorite,” said Magee, who currently works 12 hours a week at the restaurant.
Arc Placement Services – Identifying Opportunities and Supporting Workers
The Arc Supported Employment program provides more than 322 individuals with jobs at 188 different locations. Employers include Strack & Van Til, WalMart, Meijer, Steak ‘n Shake, NIPSCO, City of East Chicago, Buckley Homestead and Alcon Graphics. In the last analysis, individuals placed through the Supported Employment program earned more than $2 million at their community jobs.
“We work with individuals as young as 14 through a mentoring grant all the way up to 75 years old,” Placement Services Director Margo Love-Surprise said. “We have a great group of grocery stores and fast food restaurants, but those are by far not the only opportunities. The best part of my job is opening new doors to support these people who want to live, work and spend their money in our communities. ”
Given that adults and children with disabilities represent slightly more than 19 percent of Indiana’s population, disability awareness is important for all of us. The Arc Northwest Indiana “Dreams to Dare” community integration, independence and happiness for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.