The Arc Mid-South’s mission is to empower people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to achieve their full potential.
It’s a simple mission statement that’s accomplished through a variety of ways to support the individuals as well as their parents and caregivers. The Arc Mid-South’s family support services include personal assistance, in-home respite care, elder care, summer camps and respite weekend retreats. Its career development and job placement services include vocational evaluation, job training, GED test preparation, adult literacy and Life, Education, Training, Skills (L.E.T.S.) Program. And its advocacy services include parent/caregiver support groups; information and referral programs; community services, training and education; and the My Voice! My Choice Support Group for Self-Advocates.
The Arc’s mission started in 1950 when a group of parents and other individuals came together to create positive change for those people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. School special education didn’t exist for what was then called mental retardation. Those parents often were told to send their children to institutions. That group of concerned parents didn’t like that option. They wanted their children to lead fulfilling lives. Today, The Arc has 700 chapters across the U.S., including the Mid-South.
“Our mission is to empower individuals with disabilities,” said Sandra Hawkins, a community advocate with The Arc Mid-South and a parent of a 27-year-old boy with cerebral palsy. “We’re trying to assist them to live their lives to the fullest so they can access the community. We want to make them aware that they can be their own advocate.”
Hawkins got involved as an advocate because she experienced many of the struggles when trying to find the best resources for doctors, education and simple things such as purchasing diapers.
“There are barriers after barriers you go through from the time they’re born to the time they leave school,” she said. “Once they leave school the support isn’t there so you have to do that research all over again. The Arc Mid-South has helped me identify things. It’s great to have another parent who knows what they’re going through and who has walked in their shoes.”
Various programs ensure parents are educated on a variety of support services available. Many parents, for example, aren’t aware students with disabilities can attend school. They can graduate with a high school diploma if they complete everything other students do, or earn a certificate of attendance. To take that certificate of attendance a step further, The Arc helps the students earn a diploma or pass the GED.
The Arc Mid-South also helps individuals experience everyday life that their peer classmates might do such as attending dances. If their sister has a boyfriend there’s no reason they can’t, too.
“We empower them to speak up and talk for themselves,” Hawkins said, adding that The Arc Mid-South works with policy makers to ensure their voices and concerns are heard.
Events throughout the year provide the community an opportunity to give back to The Arc Mid-South’s mission, such as this month’s wheelchair basketball event that pits the Memphis Rollin’ Grizzlies against corporate teams. And the International Tea on May 19 features global entertainment, fashions and food. For more information about these events, ways to donate or to volunteer, visit thearcmidsouth.org.
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