Pictured is Frances, an individual served by ARC at the PATH facility.
PLATTSBURGH – Theresa Garrow is only asking for a little open-mindedness.
Get past the disability, she says, and see people for who they truly area.
“They maintain that simple joy for life,” said Garrow, executive director of the Advocacy and Resource Center for Clinton County.
ARC started nearly 60 years ago as an organization of parents who wanted better lives for their children with developmental disabilities. They were tired of the lack of medical support and education, as well as the way in which many in society treated their loved ones.
Today, ARC provides vocational training, day habilitation, respite homes, transportation and clinical, nursing and residential services for the developmentally disabled.
“Our mission is to help people find personal achievement and reach their full potential,” Garrow said.
Everyone needs support in one way or another, and people with developmental disabilities need different supports, she pointed out. ARC helps them discover they are capable of more than they or even their families suspected.
This is evident often with the 143 individuals employed throughout Clinton County at places such as Walmart, Sam’s Club, Mangia and in cleaning crews.
“They appreciate contributing,” Garrow said. “I think it is great our individuals are part of the community as opposed to being in the community.”
Garrow came to ARC in 1985 as an accountant, figuring she would give it a few years.
“These people have kept me here.”
It hasn’t been easy, especially with more than $2 million in funding cuts over the past two years and only one base increase for employees in four years.
Still, the agency does the best it can with the revenues it has available.
Bob Manor is the director of day habilitation services and said at PATH roughly 100 people are involved in day habilitation activities. The activities are individualized based on interests and needs with the goal of obtaining various skills.
Individuals served by ARC also perform a lot of volunteer work in the community. Manor said that is important and shows them they can take advantage of services in the community and are a major contributor.
Volunteer activities include time at local horse stables and reading to children at area daycare facilities.
“Everything we do here is about skill building,” Manor said. “There is a lot of practice within the facility and then real-life experiences outside.”
About 60-80 percent of individuals are out in the community during the day.
Kathleen Stygles is director of Champlain Valley Industries, which provides a structured work environment for individuals served by ARC. Prevocational services focus on improving work skills and are provided in an industrial setting, supported by contract work obtained from local and state contracts.
“We are in business to help your business,” Stygles said. “We run a warehouse, which does assembling and packaging subcontract work and janitorial services.”
Companies CVI has contracts which include Monaghan Medical, Pactiv Corp, Schonbek, Georgia Pacific, Absorbtex, Fujitsu, Mold-Rite, Hampton Direct and Schluter Systems.
CVI is always looking for contracts, and anyone interested should call 563-0037.
“I think we are a real asset to the community, and we are giving developmentally disabled people an opportunity to learn and grow and train for eventual employment in the community,” Stygles said.
ARC serves roughly 550 people in Clinton County, and 128 of them live in the agency’s 22 supervised homes located throughout the area.
Of the 475 staff employed by ARC, 250 work in the residential program. They participate in about 100 hours of paid training to ensure they are able to promote individual health and safety, consumer care and overall quality services in residential settings.
Residential staff assist in the smooth operation of the homes, ensure individuals are performing tasks as independently as possible, the home is neat and clean, personal care is taken care of and day habilitation services are being implemented.
The priority is the development of individual daily living skills and ensuring access to many opportunities for community integration.
Residential services strives to enhance, guide and support individuals to help them live independent and fulfilling lives.
Beth Davis, ARC public relations coordinator, has been documenting live at the homes through the agency’s newsletter.
“Going to the houses is my favorite,” Davis said. “They really do have a sense of family.”