By T. Denise Stokes
Being removed from your home and sent to live alone in an institution was a cruel reality prior to the 1950s for Prince George’s County children struggling with physical and mental limitations.
Seventy years ago, in 1952, a movement was born to keep children who were labeled as retarded out of state-run institutions regardless of age, race, gender, or religion. A collection of local families decided enough-was-enough and established a group that would work to provide a lifetime of support and understanding for children who were the most vulnerable. Alas, The Arc Prince George’s County was brought to life.
This process evolved over time as the disability service provider network began to grow and change. Once institutionalization was eliminated across America, agencies like The Arc began to develop the day programs that allowed individuals to mix with others like themselves who had similar disabilities. Together, they could socialize and offer their families respite during the day. Fast forward to the 21st century and there has been a shift toward community integration and inclusion. This meant closing day programs and tailoring daily community-based activities and programs to the abilities – not disabilities – and interests of individuals. No longer did one size fit all.
Families have been, and continue to be, the driving force behind the services and success of The Arc. When it comes to being a game-changer in the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), The Arc provides a wide array of services to help bring people with I/DD out of the shadows, and also out of isolation. In fact, the emphasis is on tailoring activities and programs to the desires, interests and capabilities of the individuals The Arc serves.
“Our job has been to figure out where the gaps in the service delivery existed and to determine what we needed to do that we weren’t doing,” said Rob Malone, Executive Director of The Arc Prince George’s County. Transitioning from day programs to more individualized activities for an increasingly diverse audience has meant change for families and for The Arc. Some of that change meant shifting revenue, diversifying services, hiring staff with the ability to speak another language, and changing family expectations that their loved ones could only be involved in a limited range of activities and even make their own decisions.
For years, The Arc, like other providers, has relied on funding from the state to pay for the services the agency provided. More recently, our agency has tightened up and focused on expanding and diversifying revenue beyond the state fee-for-service model. This has enabled The Arc to identify and pursue new funding to provide services not covered by the State of Maryland’s Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) and uncover opportunities to offer services for which we could be reimbursed after services were rendered. This means tracking the various services we provide down to the penny, the specific service provided, time it took to deliver it, and with what result. This tedious task is necessary and relies on staff to track all of these metrics. Thus, today accountability and measurement are an integral part of the agency process.
Mr. Malone, who has led The Arc since June 2015, emphasized that “The Arc is a very valuable institution with a lot of history and expertise. Thanks to numerous partnerships with local agencies and community advocates alike, The Arc has expanded its footprint throughout Prince George’s County by launching innovative programs such as Project SEARCH (an internship program for young residents with I/DD) and Ready@21 for transitioning youth, just to name a few.”
Today, inclusion plays a vital role in The Arc’s mission. Inclusion ensures that individuals have the skills, access, and information needed to participate as full citizens in the communities. The Arc continues its legacy 70 years later by breaking down barriers to services for Hispanic and Spanish-speaking families.
On September 30, 2022, The Arc will celebrate 70 years of caring during its 70th Anniversary Platinum Jazz Jubilee at the Gaylord National Harbor, with a special tribute to ten extraordinary individuals and organizations who have contributed to the Arc’s success. The event is open to the public and pre-paid reservations can be made at www.thearcofpgc.org
When asked about The Arc’s keys to success, Malone says, “Our agency has demonstrated its ability to build solid partnerships, collaborate and share resources. If you do these things, you can make good things happen. I’m proud of the work our staff is doing to engage with those we serve and to make a difference in the community every day. Because of them, people with I/DD can be seen and respected for the individuals they are today! All the staff needs is a wage increase from the state commensurate with the care they give. Then, we really will have evolved!”
T. Denise Stokes is a former radio personality that worked on the air at Majic 95.9 in Baltimore and was most recently a Communications Director for Six Flags in Bowie. She is a contributing writer for Vision & Purpose LifeStyle Magazine and Media.
Great communication and relationship building is the key to her opening doors and getting deals done for people who want to sell, buy and invest in real estate.