The Arc of Rensselaer County originated at a time when institutions were the primary service option for people with developmental disabilities. In 1950, when our Arc chapter was founded as part of the Capital District Chapter of the New York State Association of Retarded Children, it was a radical act to keep children with disabilities at home as opposed to shipping them off to an institution. Our Arc chapter was built on the hopeful visions of parents who saw their children as capable and contributing members of an acceptant and inclusive community - living, loving, and working beside neighbors, friends, and families.
The formation of our chapter provided an opportunity for parents to talk about and plan for ways to support their children who were excluded from typical places in the community such as schools and workplaces. At that time it was public policy to deny an education to children who were unable to “benefit” from public instruction. This led The Arc to create training or activity centers housed in donated spaces such as church basements and vacant community buildings. Acadia Building in Frear Park and School 10 in Troy, New York were sites that provided some educational instruction, but mostly crafts and recreation. These formative centers were not funded by government dollars, therefore parents and friends engaged in many fundraising activities such as bake sales to cover program expenses. In the wake of New York State’s initiative to close its abusive institutions, The Arc partnered with the Office for Developmental Disabilities (formally OMRDD) to create community options such as group homes and sheltered workshops.
We have since come a long way in supporting those with developmental disabilities live a life that they value. The form of service has morphed from group settings to individualized arrangements at work, at home and in integrated community settings. Residentially this appears in the shape of live-in, live-next to supports, shared living and paid neighbors as opposed to group homes. Supported employment and volunteering has taken the place of our sheltered workshops. At the edge of innovative assistance is self-determination, where we act as service brokers and fiscal intermediaries for individuals self-directing their funding and staffing resources. Ultimately, we envision supporting all individuals with developmental disabilities as active citizens of their communities.
I love working with so many very good, very kind, helpful and humble staff, and I enjoy the team spirit. I like the administration’s recognition of personal needs and pleasures in terms of reasonable flex time. I love the “family spirit” as well. Many of us have become lifelong friends. I also love the benefit package – it is very valuable.
I have learned to remember that some, many people, our customers, have it harder in almost all aspects of being alive; I now am more aware of the need to upgrade their experiences and also advocate for social respect for them. I would recommend that people learn, for themselves, more about who is less fortunate, to get involved in a personal and experiential way, to say hello, to decidedly open their hearts and see the reality of these persons’ dilemmas and perhaps get involved in solutions; Then I would recommend they volunteer, help financially if feasible, and if inclined, consider a career or a vocation in a helping field. Finally, I would encourage them to talk about these matters with their friends, family, and everyone they know and meet. Pass it on - Plant a seed - Grow it!
–Sally McCracken, Innovation Specialist (7 years) and Relief Staff (10 years)
The Arc of Rensselaer County